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film review

A still from The Boy and the Beast.

"Do you know why beasts and humans live in separate worlds?" wise Iozen, a warthog-man, asks in this anime fantasy from award-winning Japanese writer-director Mamoru Hosoda. "Humans are weak and harbour darkness in their souls." That's a promising idea, but unfortunately, said darkness is just generic teen angst in this cross between Beauty and the Beast and The Karate Kid. Ren, a nine-year-old orphan, slips into an alley in Tokyo's Shibuya district, and emerges into a warm-hued world of anthropomorphic beasts. He's apprenticed to intemperate Kumatetsu (resembling a gruff exile from Disney's Country Bear Jamboree), who is vying with Iozen to become lord of the beasts. Naturally, man and manimal have much to learn from each other. Too bad the lessons aren't more original. The film, which was named Animation of the Year at the Japan Academy Prizes, is gorgeous to look at. The soundscape is rich, and the beast-battles well executed. But the characters never develop beyond their two-word descriptors: Conflicted Boy, Lonely Girl, Angry Son, etc.