Movie Night #8: Animal Crossing: The Movie

Studio: OLM, Inc.
Director: Jōji Shimura
Released: 2006
Run Time: 87 minutes

Based on Nintendo’s Animal Crossing franchise, Animal Crossing: The Movie is an interesting beast. It was produced thanks to the overwhelming success of 2005’s Animal Crossing: Wild World.

The DS entry to the franchise moved 3 million units just in Japan. It was the ninth best-selling game on the DS, and it sold almost 12 million copies worldwide. That said, Animal Crossing is the video game equivalent of slice of life. There’s not any plot, and once the tutorial is done, the only thing leading you forward is your own initiative.

You can fish, hunt for bugs, dig up fossils, collect fruit, hunt for paintings, water flowers, talk to the animal villagers, decorate your house, and design clothes. There’s nothing making you do any of that, though. Sure, there are collections to complete, but there’s no quest tracker or failure scenario.

Nonetheless, slice of life is a genre of anime, and that genre has had feature length entries. Heck, I liked Non Non Biyori: Vacation. Still, I don’t think it’s a genre that lends itself to feature length films.

Animal Crossing: The Movie follows Ai, a human girl moving to Animal Village, her new animal friends Bouquet the cat and Sally the elephant, and Yū, a human boy from a nearby village, and his friend Halberd the crocodile. The supporting cast includes several more standard villagers as well as a significant number of the series’s signature shopkeepers and wandering NPCs.

Plot-wise, I suppose my problem with the film isn’t really that it’s slice of life, it’s that it can’t decide whether it wants to be slice of life or a very tame adventure story. It’s emotional highs are poorly paced and discordant with the rest of the movie. Sally’s sudden move feels especially off-town. A proper sad good bye would have landed a lot more gracefully than the whole “I left without telling you so I wouldn’t have to be sad” thing. I know it’s a video game movie geared toward young children, but the need to throw in these little emotional spikes makes it feel sloppy. The finale with the UFOs, despite being thoroughly seeded, comes hard out of left field and ruins the peaceful vibe.

The background artists did a great job expanding on the design of the game to make something that was visually interesting and movie-worthy while also very true to the art style of the game. I loved the designs for places like Nook’s shop and the various homes. It felt more like they were filling in details the games couldn’t than reinventing the visuals.

There was also clearly a lot of attention to detail in the backgrounds. I got a kick out of all the in-game items piled around Nook’s shop, and I liked that they “dressed” every interior with pieces of furniture you can buy in the game. Things like the star-shaped marks on the ground indicating a buried object, the patterns on the trees, and Kapp’n’s tiny Kapp’n dashboard figurine are the kind of details that I eat up.

I felt like character animation was a little lacking, though. Maybe it’s recency bias, but the character animation felt about a decade older than it actually is. The animals weren’t affected as much as the humans, though. This is in part because the animals have such strong designs from the video games. Ai and Yū felt totally generic. Though once again, I appreciated the use of the in-game emotion auras.

Animal Crossing: The Movie was the third highest-grossing film in its opening weekend. Overall, it earned about $16 million in its lifetime. Its been released on DVD in Japan, but there’s never been a release outside of Japan. If you’re interested in watching it, there are several subbed versions online and two separate fandubs. There are also rumors of a 2020 dub, but I think this is pretty unlikely unless its another fandub to coincide with the release of Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

It’s a cute movie, and I’m a sucker for the very clear love shown to one of my favorite franchises. That said, it’s not a very good movie. I’d love to see Nintendo take a crack at a 12-episode anime adaptation of the series that’s pure slice of life though. I’m giving this one a C+.

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