The legacy of mermaids in animated film is well established. After all, films like “The Little Mermaid,” “Ponyo,” and others have found ways to bring the mythical creature to life. Mermaids can present an interesting opportunity for animators to flex their muscles. Director Masaaki Yuasa, fresh off “Night is Short, Walk on Girl,” has brought experimental animation to Japanese animation. His latest, “Lu Over the Wall,” is a visual splendor from beginning to end, despite being a little lengthy. Still, GKIDS should have another player on their hands.
“Lu Over the Wall” follows Kai, a young boy living in a fishing village with his father and grandfather. Kai’s parents divorced, leaving him lonely and without friends. In his free time, he writes music and has secretly become popular with high schoolers. However, when his secret is exposed, two fellow students Kunio and Yūho ask him to join their band. They go to practice at the forbidden Merfolk Island, a forbidden place due to the negative superstitions of the village towards mermaids. Once there, they meet Lu, a young mermaid who sprouts legs when pop music is played. Her singing compels humans to break into dance, and the band quickly takes off. However, when her secret is exposed, the four face the village in a battle against misunderstanding, capitalism, and emotional repression.
Where “Lu Over the Wall” really shines is the beautiful animation that features throughout the film. The animation is a combination of watercolors and adorable character design. It feels inspired by Miyazaki‘s “Ponyo” and “My Neighbor Totoro,” but takes it’s character design a step weirder. The story also blends the mythos of mermaids, drawing inspiration from vampires to craft new rules to the story. It’s much more fluid in its character design, featuring bendy and ambiguous character boundaries. It gives the film a mythical feel that greatly adds to the general jubilation on screen.
The music they bring into the film is extremely enjoyable. A mixture of house and traditional Japanese animation music creates very cute moments. You’ll be humming the various catchy themes for days after seeing the film. It also gives the film chances to make music videos within the film, especially in several of the band’s performances. The energetic nature of the music will make you want to dance.
The story is also fun for the most part. There are some on the nose moments, including a battle against the town elders about keeping the mermaids secret. The kids, especially Kai, are rich and fully fleshed out characters. Each has their own motivations and drives at play throughout the film. True emotions buried in the story create an exceptional payoff late in the film.
Unfortunately, the film drags at times. It’s in part due to the 112-minute runtime. The movie makes the most of adding more interesting animation and fun storytelling to fill up that time. However, with a film this long, there is inevitably drag. Some characters have the same holdups throughout the film, which grows a little tiring. If they had cut about 15 minutes, it would be a very strong contender for GKIDS this Fall.
Overall, “Lu Over the Wall” is an excellent film that deserves a real push for an Oscar nomination. It may have some issues gaining an audience, but it is a very cute family film. If given the opportunity, this is a wonderful children’s movie that many kids should see. It serves as a good message and has some surprisingly emotional moments. Hopefully, the Academy catches the dance fever this Fall.