Faithful and emotional anime adaptation of a literary classic
I first heard of the story of 'the Dog of Flanders' years ago, through a Belgian comic strip called 'Suske & Wiske' (known in other parts of the world as 'Bob & Bobette' or 'Willy and Wanda'). Just some weeks ago I discovered the original children's book that this film is based on.
The film itself is supposed to more or less rephrase the original anime series that was shown all over the world in the 1970's. The relatively simple animation of that time is emulated very well. Although the character designs look a bit basic compared to more recent Miyazaki and Takahata works, there's something about them that is undeniably pretty and sincere. The dog of the title, Patrashe, is animated wonderfully and very life-like, something Western animation (well, at least Disney) will never manage to achieve. The backgrounds are detailed (the scenes inside and outside the Antwerp cathedral are nothing short of stunning, no matter how much CGI animation you've seen) and colourful, but in a modest way. Plot-wise, this is a faithful adaption of the 1872 book by Flemish/English writer Ouida, with the same sort of bleak, but sincere feel. For a children's cartoon this is a very, very sad film, but certainly recommended (although it would probably be best if an adult would accompany them). Maybe this is not as ultimately depressing as 'Grave of the Fireflies', but it certainly comes close. The movie became almost unbearable for me to watch towards the end, not because it was bad, but because of the depiction of cruelty that humanity is capable of. Don't be surprised if you feel the will to scream out of pure anger and frustration, while at other times you just want to cry like a child. The strange thing is, I've never experienced these feelings on such a deep level with films like 'Schindler's List', for example, which, like this film, also deals with cruelty, albeit on a much grander scale. I have to add here that Spielberg almost always ruins the sincerity in his films by adding either an incredibly sappy and fake prologue/epilogue (Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan), or the inevitable happy end. Although I must admit that the bittersweet ending of 'Artificial Intelligence' worked really well for me, but that's another story altogether.
Also worthy of praise is the fact that the film gets a lot of factual details right, and I find that important in any production, because if anything, it shows effort and the will to dig deeper. The film is primarily a Japanese production, not necessarily meant for the foreign market. The Flemish landscape looks accurate enough, but what really surprised me was that on various occasions, the film incorporates Dutch writings where appropriate, and without a single grammatical or spelling mistake. This is, I think, a testament to the animators, and the level of accuracy they were willing to put in this production.
To conclude, this is an incredible film for children an adults alike, but also for the serious anime fan. Be warned though-- the US DVD version which floats around is heavily edited and only features an English vocal track, so you might want to try and get hold of an Asian import, which isn't that hard to come by these days, thanks to that wonderful thing called online shopping.
Rating: 5 out of 5.
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