Animated Movies, Reviews

[REVIEW] ‘When Marnie Was There’

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“In this world, there is an invisible, magic circle. There’s an inside and an outside. And I’m outside.” Thus begins Studio Ghibli’s When Marnie Was There. Based on Joan G. Robinson’s book, the film was directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi (The Secret World of Arrietty) and was rumored to be Studio Ghibli’s final film before its indefinite hiatus back in 2014.

The story introduces us to Anna, a shy, budding young artist, who suffers from asthma and keeps herself closed off from her loving foster parents and peers. Her worried mom sends her to a seaside town to spend the summer with relatives in hopes that the fresh, sea air will help Anna’s asthma. Anna struggles to adapt to the new town but finds herself strangely drawn to an elegant, dilapidated mansion near a marsh. There she meets a mysterious, kind girl her own age named Marnie. Together, the two girls form a strong, secret friendship. Anna soon finds that not everything is as it appears as strange occurrences and misunderstandings threaten her close relationship with Marnie.

The film’s animation does not disappoint, and the music, simple but sweet, goes well with the story. The main characters—Anna and Marnie—are relatable as both girls struggle with their own, personal hardships. Friendship and hope are the main themes in this film. The pacing is relatively slow, but I didn’t find it too distracting. I watched the English dubbed version of this movie, and I highly recommend it; the voice acting is excellent. Viewers may be confused by some scenes in the movie. In a featurette for the film, one of the voice actors likened it to a ghost story (it’s not scary). I feel that it could be described as a time-traveling tale as well.

Overall, When Marnie Was There is a worthy addition to Studio Ghibli’s collection. It may not be as fantastical as Spirited Away or Howl’s Moving Castle, but the movie has its own subtle magic that’s effective and haunting at the same time. It’s sad that this film may be the last one made by Studio Ghibli, but in a way, When Marnie Was There is a perfect, bittersweet farewell to Studio Ghibli fans everywhere.

Have you seen When Marnie Was There? What did you think about it? Tell us in the comments’ section!

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About Kelly Conley

Kelly Conley identifies herself as a lifelong bookworm, aspiring writer and editor, chronic chocoholic, and animated movie lover. She also enjoys playing volleyball with her family and friends. Kelly is currently studying Professional Writing and Information Design at Cedarville University, Ohio. As a little girl, Kelly was fed a steady diet of Disney and Pixar classics. Her favorite ones growing up included Disney’s famous Beauty and the Beast and Pixar’s delectable Ratatouille. Animated movies have always been magical to Kelly even as an adult. With the simple ingredients of a good story, music, colors, voices, and a strong imagination, new worlds and characters can be created and brought to the silver screen for everyone to enjoy. Check out Kelly’s portfolio:
  • Rachel Wagner

    I loved it too especially the boldness of having a child with such deep depression. It reminded me that we have people beyond the veil and on earth who are pulling for us. Anna has that but she doesn’t feel it until she meets Marnie. Another thing I loved was the sound design. The water and grass felt so lush and rich. It added to the immersive feel and I agree on the music. I think Fine on the Outside should have been nominated for best song.

  • Rachel Wagner

    I didn’t realize this hadn’t been reviewed yet on the site so thanks so much for doing it. It definitely deserves the shout-out.

  • It was a nice film and I hope Ghibli will continue making films again in the near future.

  • Marielle

    I liked it a lot. For most of the movie, it’s very mysterious and atmospheric, though the final part of the movie is a lot less subtle. The ending is explicitly explained as if the viewer was too dumb to put the pieces together. Anyone else feels that way?

    • No, I needed the explanation, I think, lol. I don’t think I pieced the puzzle pieces together.

      • Marielle

        Precision: I did not guess what the mystery was about! It’s just that after the diary, I think the photo reveal at the end would have been enough explanation. The old lady explaining everything was too much. Actually, the photo reveal was ruined for me because Anna reacts with shock even though the old lady already explained it all to her.

    • Chaz

      I had guessed the twist before it was explained, but I think that the explanation was necessary if nothing else to confirm what we were all thinking. It brings needed closure to explicitly state how Marnie and Anna were connected. I hesitate to say anymore for fear of spoiling for others.

      • Marielle

        I agree it needed to be stated clearly, what bothered me is that it was explained more than once, and in very lengthy exposition.

  • Phin68

    I’ll approach this movie with caution. Wasn’t particularly a fan of last Yonebayashi’s last movie Arietty, even though it was well-recieved by critics and Ghibli fans.

    • Marielle

      I thought it was similar to From Up on Poppy Hill. Did you like that one?

      • Phin68

        No, not really. It felt boring and drastically inferior to a similar Stuido Ghibli film called Whisper of the Heart. The only thing that wowed me from Poppy Hill was its twist.

        • Marielle

          When Marnie Was There has the same structure of story concluding with twist. It also has similarities to Whisper of the Heart because it’s about a middle school girl doing a bit of soul searching. But it’s still different enough from previous movies I think.

  • It’s definitely an odd film. I look at it as a strong friendship between the two girls, but I could understand how some people would see it as a lesbian connection.

  • shaunn

    I think this was a really beautiful film – one of my favorites from Ghibli. It’s atmospheric, spectacularly beautiful (the moon on the bay at night, the girls in the forest) and also tells a tale of timeless love. I think it is easy to see a lesbian undertone to the film, but I think it is more properly understood as a more asexual expression of deep love between the two girls. The core of the story is the pain of being abandoned and unwanted, then finally discovering that the people who abandoned you really did love you, in the end.

  • I really wanna see this one so bad! Especially after this awesome review! Hope to see it real soon maybe!