Animated Feature Kensuke’s Kingdom Treats Its Young Viewers With Respect

By   |   March 12, 2024   |   Entertainment

This review contains spoilers.

Theater Diva here, reporting from the New York Children’s International Film Festival. Have you ever seen a kid-friendly animated movie quieter than most others? Have you seen a movie that’s smart enough to be economical? Plenty of underrated animated features fit the bill but may not get elevated in the conversation.

One of these great kid features this year is the Lupus Films movie Kensuke’s Kingdom. Directed by Neil Boyle and Kirk Hendry, it adapts a popular children’s book by Michael Morpurgo illustrated by Michael Foreman.

A young boy, Michael (Aaron MacGregor), is cast away from his seafaring family (voices by Cillian Murphy, Sally Hawkins and Raffey Cassidy). Washed up on an island shore with his dog, the boy tries hard to survive the elements. One day, he is surprised to wake up and find that a mysterious benefactor has left him fish and water. He isn’t alone.

An elderly Japanese man—the eponymous Kensuke, played by a splendid Ken Watanabe—has resided there since World War II. Once they get over initial tensions, the two forge a friendship and protect orangutans from poachers who trample upon the isle’s tranquility.

Casting an atmosphere that reveres eco-themes, this film treats its child viewers with respect and attention. Although the subject may be harsh as a survivalist flick, it strikes the right balance between dark and hopeful moments.

Frank Cottrell-Boyce’s screenplay spoon-feeds the right amount of information and realizations without being stuffy. One smart departure from the textual source material is that Kensuke doesn’t conveniently speak limited English (a trait that would have stereotyped him), to focus on his and Michael’s communication through observation and quiet understandings. 

In the most memorable scene, the film makes an art shift into moving ink paintings that depict the devastation of the atomic bomb in Nagasaki, Japan. A paint drop signifies a terrifying detail. The film is frank to kids, showcasing that sometimes one person can’t prevent a tragedy. If animated features had the privilege of media amplification, this sequence would be the talk of animation communities. 

I’m 30 years old, but Kensuke’s Kingdom is the kind of animated flick I would have replayed when I was small. It isn’t noisy like the animated flicks of today. It harkens back to rare hand-crafted treasures like The Iron Giant, those that reach the heart.

For more information about screenings, see here, and learn more about the New York International Children’s Film Festival.

Filed Under: Entertainment
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