This Japanese animated feature has been re-dubbed with name-brand, English-speaking stars. Luckily, that’s the only thing that’s changed. The worst elements of pandering, computer-generated American-made cartoons are pleasantly absent from this rich fable.
Young Ashitaka kills a demonic warthog that’s charging his village, and in the process, gets infected with a demonic plague. He’s kicked out of the village and sets off to try to find why the demon attacked his home. His travels lead him to the edge of a mythical world where fledgling ironmakers are encroaching on the ancient forest of great talking beasts and fading forest gods.
The story is not inappropriate for older children (there is some violence), but refreshingly, the film isn’t targeting a younger audience. It thematically explores change in a mature, open-ended way than no American movie could possibly do. And although the movie takes sides, judging some characters more harshly than others, each character’s perspective is unique, understandable and valid. Nobody is merely “the bad guy” or “the good guy.”
In other words, Princess Mononoke is the smartest, most thoughtful, best-made cartoon you’re likely to see in a long time.