This past week saw the Western release of Animal Crossing: New Leaf for the 3DS. Despite having never played an Animal Crossing game myself—largely due to its part in the most heartbreaking gaming tale I have ever heard—I decided it would be fun to sit down and watch the 2006 Animal Crossing anime film.
This was, frankly, a bad idea as it turned an otherwise enjoyable evening into one of the most boring 87-minute chunks of my entire life.
If one good thing can be said about the Animal Crossing film, it's that it does a good job in bringing the game setting to the silver screen. The town is filled with familiar characters ranging from Tortimer—the mayor of the town—to Tom Nook the shop owner. Many of the game's locations appear as well like the coffee shop in the museum and the town hall. Even events from the games, like K.K. Slider's Saturday night concerts and the various festivals, are shown in the film. There is even a new vocal version of one of Slider's songs in the film—though while everything else in the film is in Japanese, his singing voice has been converted into highly digitized-sounding Animalese.
Unfortunately, there is a downside to being an accurate representation of Animal Crossing: it's not exactly a game known for its plot. More than anything else, the Animal Crossing games are about making your own story within the game's setting. You interact with the other characters and basically live how you want. This does not make for a compelling or particularly interesting movie.
When the main character of the film, a young girl named Ai, comes to the town, she has no motivation or back story. The first third of the film is simply her wandering around and meeting the town's inhabitants. After that, there is still no overriding plot but there is at least a cast of known characters we follow from scene to scene in a weirdly boring slice of life tale.
[*Skip to “Final Thoughts” to avoid spoilers.] And as these scenes are largely unconnected, many obvious plot set-ups are left unresolved. Take for example Blathers the Owl. He mentions his dream is to finish his dinosaur fossil collection by finding a seismosaurus skeleton. Indeed, our heroine does find one but never even mentions it to him—in fact this plot point is never mentioned again. This means he is less a character and more of a tool to tell Ai about the existence of such a fossil so that when she comes upon it, she'll know what it is.
Even worse is the case of Margie the Elephant. We spend nearly every scene she's in seeing how dedicated she is to becoming a fashion designer. Eventually, she leaves the town to pursue her dream in the most emotionally devastating moment of the film. But once Ai comes to terms with her sadness resulting from it, Margie's dream is never addressed again. Sure, Margie returns near the end of the film, but her professional success or failure is never once mentioned.
[*Skip to “Final Thoughts” to avoid spoilers.]Most of the problems with the film would no doubt be overlooked by the film's obvious target audience: young children. However, the fact that it is a film for children actually makes the film worse as the Animal Crossing movie teaches a horrible lesson to children.
The film’s big dramatic moment is when Margie the Elephant leaves town without telling Ai. The next day, Rosie the Cat berates Ai for not saying goodbye to Margie on her final night in town—this is how Ai finds out she may never see her best friend again. To make it worse, Ai discovers that every single other person in town knew that Margie was leaving. So after spending the day in crippling emotional pain, Ai gets a letter from Margie stating she didn't want to start her new life being sad so she decided to skip saying goodbye to her best friend all together.
Which translates to: “I decided to be selfish and make you feel horrible so I wouldn't have to be sad. And since you are a good friend, you'll forgive me because that's what friends do.” And, of course, Ai immediately does.
This is not a good lesson to teach kids. Shouldn't we be teaching them to do the right thing even if it's sad? That it's important to face the hard moments of our lives instead of running away from them? Or that even friendship has its limits on what is forgivable?
I'll say one thing for this part of the film, though, it got me out of my bored emotional state—and into one of affronted disbelief.
When it comes down to it, I spent the vast majority of my time watching Animal Crossing being bored out of my mind—and when I wasn't bored, I was offended. It is a pretty terrible film that suffers from not really having a point—be that a plot-based one or a thematic one. While I suspect fans of the game series may enjoy seeing their favorite characters animated, I wouldn't recommend this film to anyone, especially children. There are plenty of better films for them out there that do more than teach poor lessons about friendship.
Animal Crossing was released in Japanese theaters on December 16, 2006. The film has never received an official release outside of Japan.
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