Old Review: Dobutsu no Mori (aka Animal Crossing: The Movie)

Dobutsu No Mori

Young and notably self-reliant, Ai is the newest resident of the Animal Village. This is most exciting to her as this is the first time she is living alone. While all is great at first, Ai soon notices that getting used to the new environment isn’t that easy as the local shopkeeper and landlord, Tom Nook, forces her to work as his delivery girl upon first meeting, and it doesn’t help that the nearby residents don’t recognize her instantly as the new girl in the village. Eventually she gets the hang of what goes on in the town and makes a group of friends including an overly happy and slightly immature cat named Bouquet, a strong and ambitious designer named Sally and a mischievous cosplaying male duo that consists of crocodile Albert and a young boy from a neighbouring village named Yu. Along with their adventures and taking part in the village festivities, Ai becomes interesting in the idea of Aliens after finds messages in bottles giving certain tasks for a miracle to happen in during the Winter Festival. What will happen on that day, can only be discovered if she believes in her friends and work on her own goals, living her new life in this humble little village.

While originally released on the Nintendo 64, and had positive international reception when it was ported to the Gamecube on December 2001, the Animal Crossing series became a worldwide success when it was released on the Nintendo DS as Animal Crossing: Wild Worlds, becoming one of the first ten DS games to sell over 1 million copies and becoming one of the five highest selling DS games of all time. With this success, Nintendo wanted a film adaptation, and Jōjin Shimura, who worked on the Master Keaton anime, was selected to direct. Animation OLM was chosen to produce the film, having partnered with Nintendo on many anime adaptations of video games, most especially the Pokemon franchise and most recently, Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva. It was given a theatrical release December 16th 2006, being later released on DVD in July 2007 and on the DS cartridge in August 2009. Interestingly, there must have been quite a few storyboard changes, because some of the scenes in the trailer never appear in the actual film.

The 2D animation in Dobutsu No Mori is quite minimalistic, considering the time this film came out. The action scenes show a lot of effort and characters move more human like their game counterparts, although being an anime made to promote a gaming franchise, actual animation seems slightly choppy, but if you are a regular anime watcher this is expected. The 3D animation is decent and in most cases is very subtle and blends well to the environment of the film, the best animation appears in the third act, which looks spectacular and out of this world, giving a perfect feel to the scene it’s in, but it would spoil the ending to mention it.

One thing I’m happy about is the character designs feel much better than what Nintendo used, particularly for the two human characters, Ai and Yu. They look well rounded and cute, a huge improvement from the blocky polygon designs the games have. Some of the other characters are designed to their main stereotypes, too surprising effect. Bouquet looks sweet adorable, the lady like white wolf Bianca looks mature and feminine, and the grumpy looking but kind hearted Bald Eagle Apollo has a slightly intimidating feel to him, in the light hearted way. I think the art style is really suited to young girls, which from what I know was the main audience for the Nintendo DS game at the time. Most of the colours used are bright, pastel, and naturistic. Even though I think the art style would suit girls more, it isn’t overblown to the point where it would immediately deter any guys from watching it. I believe the only real flaw in the visuals is in the background design, I know it’s a normal practice to us paints and shades in the background and basic fill colouring for the characters, but the majority of the backgrounds look like coloured sketches which make the characters stand out too well.

Since the Composer for this film, Kazumi Totaka, was also one of the composers for Animal Crossing: Wild Worlds on the DS, most of the music is completely faithful to the games, almost to the point of being minor arrangements to the original soundtrack. They normally give the feel of a summer environment, with its use of mellow acoustic guitars, accordions, and bongo drums among others. The winter themed music, while composed in the same style, use instruments which give a good feel of Christmas in particular. There is even a musical number of one of KK Slider’s songs “K K’s Rhythm” that is done in the funny synthesised voice of Tokata. When there are original compositions, which are mainly orchestrated, really suit both the mood and the feel of the scenes, which is strange because they can have a calm feel to them in dramatic and action oriented scenes. They also have the slight issue that they’re more typical than the other compositions so they’re not really worth listening to on their own.

The voice acting is worth listening to, although there is nothing majorly special. Ai has a innocent and eager personality, done well by Yui Horie. Bouquet has a cute and immature voice, like an overly excited 10 year old. Possibly one of my favourites however is the “Rule-Keeper” Mr Resetti, who in the games is a loud, grumpy and obnoxious mole who complains to the player for not saving the game, and Yuichi Kimura matches this really well and is so funny that in the few scenes he’s in, left just a good impression on me than the main characters did. Most of the other characters, particularly Bianca and Apollo, don’t really exaggerate their voices, so they sound more normal which works for serious moments in the film, but for a younger appreciated film like this, along with what other characters are like, they don’t leave the biggest impression.

I first heard of this film when I no hope for video game adaptations, since with the exceptions of the first two Pokemon films and Street Fighter II animated film, most of the ones I saw or heard were mainly disappointed. Even though I knew this was a Japanese animated film, I had my doubts knowing it was based on Animal Crossing, a game that literally had no plot. When I actually saw the film, I was surprised by how effective the story is in relation to the game. I do agree that it is typical in its morals and elements, like how important friendship is, how you need to believe in yourself and what you are doing and that you need to continue what you love or you’ll lose your skills in it, this being used by the metaphor of a “Cherry Pie”, and you know how childish a storyline is when it’s most sad and dramatic moment in the film is when a friend is moving away from the Animal Village. But in this film, it does it well, and in my opinion, way better than the games themselves probably ever will, because it may not be heart wrenching or tearful, but it’s taken seriously enough for the viewers to care. Since this can be classified as a kids film, there is a good amount of comedy throughout the film, and I must admit I had a good chuckle at a good amount of them. Most of the best moments are in the third act, which actually has a surprising amount of effective scenes, whether they were tense or magical, and it is the most memorable moments in the entire film. Sadly this does make the first two acts weaker in comparison but in its entirety, this is a really nice and sweet film to watch.

I’m guessing as soon as you saw what this film is, you think you have to be either a girl or at least have some soft part for the Animal Crossing games in order to watch this. While I’m faced to accept the truth, I think everyone should at least give this film a try when they have a chance, as a video game adaptation or an anime film. Before “Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva” and even “Pokemon 2000” I thought this was the only consistently good video game film, and since it shows how much faith it has in the games and adds so much more it’s no doubt why. As an anime film, it’s calming, peaceful and fun to watch and a really spectacle final act that is really engaging, so even if you think it, it’s a real understatement to say this is just a guilty pleasure for some.

Unfortunately, the Animal Crossing Film is officially unavailable in the west. A manga by Yuki Koyama is also officially unavailable in English. With the exception of the original game on the Nintendo 64, the video games are easily available to buy on the Gamecube, the Nintendo DS (As Animal Crossing: Wild Worlds) and the Nintendo Wii (As Animal Crossing: City Folk), with a 3DS version currently in development, all of them were released by Nintendo. While it has been translated and was available on Youtube subtitled, the first version was removed by Toho on copyright grounds, although better versions are available to watch or download, and there’s even a fan dub directed by batwing321. While Nintendo officially confirmed no plans for an American release of the film, it was announced not too long ago that Spike Industries have been in negotiations on getting the license for an English Dub and a US DVD release so there is still hope.

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