'The Tale of Princess Kaguya' Is One of the Best Movies of the Year, So Calm Down About That 'Lego' Snub

The loudest outcries of displeasure over the 2015 Oscar nominations came in association with one particularly unexpected category: Best Animated Feature. After 11 months of perfectly harmonized “Everything Is Awesome” sing-alongs and excited shouts of “Spaceship, spaceship, spaceship!” the fan favorite and critically esteemed The Lego Movie did not snag an Academy Award nod. And people are livid.

Somehow, The Lego Movie snub is trouncing even those of Selma’s director Ava DuVernay and star David Oyelowo in incursion of outrage. But maybe we should all step back and take a second look at the animated movies that did make the cut… OK, not all of them (The Boxtrolls was disappointing, Big Hero 6 uninspired, and How to Train Your Dragon 2 altogether abysmal), but one in particular: The Tale of Princess Kaguya, whose relatively surprising inclusion among this year’s nominees more than makes up for the absence of Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s frenetic comedy. Without a doubt, Kaguya is the finest animated feature of 2014, and deserves far more focus as a nominee than Lego Movie does as a snub.

One of the latest bits of genius from the animation powerhouse Studio Ghibli, The Tale of Princess Kaguya is an emotionally dense update of a Japanese folktale delivered via a majesty of watercolor artistry. As powerful a coming-of-age tale as Boyhood, the story follows a young girl, born of the moon and bestowed unto a humble bamboo cutter and his wife, as she grows from a modest country girl into an idolized princess.

The movie doesn’t tamper only in the fantastical; as powerful a coming-of-age tale as Boyhood, it’s in truth a story about growing up, aging, losing grip on youth (and the abundant treasures that come with it). Its characters, though simple and broad, are terrifically rich and inviting — vocal performances by the original Japanese cast are as cathartic as any live-action English-language acting you’ll have seen all year.

But it isn’t all heavy emotion and trudging metaphors. The Lego Movie might have more laughs per minute, but The Tale of Princess is plenty funny in its own right (one particularly macabre joke late in the film had my theater erupting in unanimous cackles). Of course, laughter isn’t the principal evocation here… so prepare yourself for tears.

The ending… oh, the ending. I can’t recall a recent film that has made me cry as emphatically as The Tale of Princess Kaguya did. In its outstandingly innovative illustration of themes so relatable, the movie manages the greatest feat that a cinematic outing might hope to achieve: telling a story everyone can find him or herself within.

Yes, The Lego Movie is fun. But The Tale of Princess Kaguya is the best animated film of 2014 — and one of the best films altogether. So don’t get too riled up over this particular category.

Images: Toho