The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006, Mamoru Hosoda)
I wasn't familiar with director Hosoda until the past few weeks when everybody seemed to be talking about this movie on a message board I visit often. His filmography doesn't inspire confidence, so I wasn't sure about this at all.
Imagine my surprise when I realized that not only was this movie better than expected, it was actually one of the better movies I had seen in some time. From the story, to the characters and message, TGWLTT is a top quality film, let alone a top quality animation movie. In it, Makoto, a young high school student, is blessed and cursed with the temporary ability to travel through time (by leaping of course). She uses this fantastic power for her own benefit at first of course, but she learns more and more about her two best friends, Kousuke and Chiaki, as well as other students at her school, that she eventually must use her time traveling abilities to rewrite their stories the right way.
Every character here is well developed, three dimensional, and fun. Makoto has all the flaws that most teenagers have, in fact that most people have. She can be kind, helpful, but also jealous and inconsiderate towards others. She is a great central character who must learn how to use her powers for the right reasons. Best of all, she is absolutely hysterical. I was laughed long and hard at her reactions to events around her and how she 'landed' in the past whenever she time traveled (I won't give it away, but it was funny every single freaking time). The story certainly contains some dramatic beats that push propel it forward, but the filmmakers didn't shy away from injecting a healthy dose of funny moments and lines. The character interactions were surprisingly well written and truthful (Hosoda directed, but did not write the script). It was all believable to a certain extent, once you set the fantastical elements aside of course. It's a movie with real characters, people the viewer can actually care about and who aren't present merely for comical or exposition purposes. One has to remember that we're dealing with teenagers, not full fledged adults, but it all works perfectly. Some of the dialogue is quite witty and rich, enhancing the quiter dialogue scenes. While I shan't delve into spoilers, there was one story driven element that I didn't quite buy. However in the grander scheme of things, I easily overlooked it because everything else worked so well.
Visually the film is eye pleasing. Characters are detailed and overall have a great look and feel to them. It's a perfect marriage of realism of cartoons. Certain facial expressions had me laughing as well (I particularly thought the X's for eyes on a girl who is at the bottom of a pileup to be quite funny) The environments also caught my eye. Several scenes take Makoto to a bicycle path along a river at dusk. Every time Makoto was there the film looked gorgeous. It's nice to know that there are certain filmmakers who still embrace more traditional animation. I would never argue that computer generated films don't have their merit. One need only watch a film like Wall-E to be convinced of the glorious heights that format can reach. However, the North American market of animation films is simply bubbling with CG films, meaning that hand drawn 2-D films have been left to the wayside it seems. There are hints that CG was used in a few sequences in the film, but overall this feels like classic animation.
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is touching, comical, and generally well written. There are moments when the musical score dictates what the viewer should be feeling, something I'm never a big admirer of, but I easily overlooked it. Everything fits neatly into place throughout the film, making it one of the best animation films to receive a release in the North American market in recent years. And yes, I have seen Wall-E and still stand by that statement.