Blu-ray and DVD Reviews

Pom Poko

Reviewed by: Scott Chitwood
Movie Rating:
4 out of 10
Extras Rating:
4 out of 10
Movie Details:
View here

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Rating: PG

Starring:
Jillian Bowen as Kiyo
Clancy Brown as Gonta
David Oliver Cohen as Ponkichi
Olivia d'Abo as Koharu
John Di Maggio as Ryutaro
Marc Donato as Sasuke
Brian George as Hage Kincho
Jess Harnell as Gyobu
Wally Kurth as Tamasaburo
Maurice LaMarche as The Narrator
Tress MacNeille as Oroku
Mark Moseley as Reporter, news anchor
Brian Posehn as Hayashi
Kevin Michael Richardson as Bunta
J.K. Simmons as Seizaemon
Andre Stojka as Osho
Russi Taylor as Otama
Jonathan Taylor Thomas as Shokichi

Special Features:
Original Storyboards

Trailers

TV Spots

Other Info:
Widescreen (1.85:1)
Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround Sound
Japanese Language
Spanish Subtitles
Running Time: 119 Minutes

Synopsis:
This film was originally released in Japan in 1994 under the name “Heisei tanuki gassen pompoko”. The following is from the DVD cover:

“Pom Poko is a tale of the clash between modern civilization and the natural world. The Raccoons of the Tama Hills are being forced from their homes by the rapid development of houses and shopping malls. As it becomes harder to find food and shelter, they decide to band together and fight back. The Raccoons practice and perfect the ancient art of transformation until they are even able to appear as humans. In often hilarious ways, the Raccoons use their powers to try to scare off the advancement of civilization. But will it be enough? Or will the Raccoons learn how to live in balance with the modern world? Celebrate the magic of the forest and the beauty of the creatures who live among us in Pom Poko — on DVD for the first time ever.”

Pom Poko is rated PG for violence, scary images and thematic elements.

The Movie:
I’ve seen a lot of weird Japanese animation, but this is one of the weirdest. I sat my wife and kids down in front of the TV to watch it and everything started off OK. Then the raccoons came on the screen and started transforming. That was strange, but not that strange. It was then that I noticed something odd between the legs of the male raccoon characters. It wasn’t until I saw it again a few times that I realized what it was – a scrotum. I said to my wife, “Did you see that?” We both looked again and I said, “Is that what I think it is??” We then realized we had seen the first testicles shown in a Disney film. Fortunately the kids didn’t notice. But it got weirder from there.

As the movie progressed, an older male raccoon asked all the other male raccoons to sit on a large red carpet. The carpet then transformed and folded up between the male raccoon’s legs. Yes, he transformed his scrotum into a giant carpet. Again, I said, “Was that what I thought it was?!?” It got weirder from there. Later in the film, a bunch of raccoons start flying in formation to attack the humans. Their testicles then swell up to about 10 feet in diameter and they dropped out of the sky and flattened the humans with their massive balls. After landing, one of the warriors proceeded to swing his large scrotum around knocking over humans in a fight. I frankly couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I was simultaneously amused, baffled, repulsed, and at a loss for words.

Admittedly, the whole scrotum thing is a small part of the movie…so to speak. But there are other bits of the animation that were off. In several scenes we see raccoons flattened by trucks followed by shots of their bodies lying in pools of blood on the road. It’s realistic, but not appropriate for every child to see. In another scene, a couple of kids are seen looking at a pornographic magazine. When they drop it, you get a full view of what they were looking at. I believe they are the first boobies intentionally shown in a Disney film. There’s a whole cultural thing going on here where these things are acceptable in Japan but not in all parts of America. Still, parents should be aware that they are there. There’s also a bit cultural gap in the story, too. Without knowing the mythology of raccoons in Japan or the history of urban development in Tokyo in the 1960’s, a lot of the significance of the story wears off. It’s hard to appreciate the message of conservation when you’re scratching your head over how weird everything is. Instead it ends up being both bizarre and boring.

It’s not all bad, though. There’s one hilarious scene where the raccoons try to scare the humans out of their forest. They do so by pretending to be spooks and monsters and the results are very funny. In another cool scene, the raccoons put on a parade of ghosts and goblins in the sky in one of the most imaginative scenes I’ve seen in animation in a long time (not counting the scrotum battle). The animation is generally quite impressive. Some of the cooler scenes involve shots of the raccoons in their more realistic, natural form (without Volkswagen sized testicles….sorry, couldn’t resist). It’s impressive animation, but the content is a bit off.

The Disney dub of this film features a who’s who of animation voice talent. Included in the cast are John Di Maggio (Futurama), Jess Harnell (Animaniacs), Tress MacNeille (The Simpsons), and Maurice LaMarche (Pinky and the Brain). Also included are actors like Clancy Brown, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, and J.K. Simmons.

The Extras:
There are a minimal number of bonus features on this DVD despite the fact that it’s a two disc set. You have your standard trailers and TV spots plus the film entirely in storyboard form like in the other Studio Ghibli imports from Disney. It’s ultimately only of interest to animation fans.

The Bottom Line:
Because Pom Poko is bizarre, generally slow, and features a baffling number of raccoon scrotums, I can’t recommend it to general audiences or kids. This one is for animation fans only.

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