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The 400-Word Review: Lu Over the Wall

The latest animated import brought to local screens by GKIDS is more evidence of why moviegoers should be paying attention.

Photo courtesy GKIDS

For my money, there are two movie distributors which bear immediate attention for each and every release. (Yes, I’m aware that the topic of film distribution is of little interest to the general public, but I’m going somewhere.)

One is A24, the nearly flawless indie-film mavens responsible for getting the likes of “Lady Bird,” “The Florida Project,” “Room” and dozens more to wide audiences. The other, surprisingly, is GKIDS, a group that specializes in animated imports.

Cartoons in mainstream cinema have always been more or less monopolized by Disney and a few others. It’s hard to complain; the epics from the Mouse House and Pixar are often excellent. But for genre-bending, challenging works of animation — particularly those aimed as much at adults as children — fans often must look overseas, and to indie studios, for interesting fare.

GKIDS has released Oscar nominees such as “The Breadwinner” and “My Life as a Zucchini” in recent years, as well as darker cartoons; “Birdboy: The Forgotten Children” and “The Girl Without Hands” were two of my favorites last year.

They also bring significant works of Japanese animation to American screens; the latest is “Lu Over the Wall,” a technicolor wonder from storied anime helmer Masaaki Yuasa. In a small seaside town, moody Kai reluctantly accepts an invitation from two schoolmates to form a band; they practice in secret on nearby Merfolk Island, long abandoned by a community fearful of aquatic spirits.

The kids are stunned when Lu, a tiny, mermaid-esque creature, bursts from the water and lends vocals to their tunes; she’s got a litany of magic powers (making the entire town dance in a “Looney Tunes” style bit of visual brilliance chief among them). Plenty of the neighbors aren’t going to like Lu’s arrival, however — nor will they take too kindly to her father, a grinning, ambulatory shark.

“Lu Over the Wall” will be of more interest to devotees; there are some genre-specific beats and touches that lose something in translation. (Many theaters are showing both an English-language version and the subtitled original; go for the subtitles.) But those with a flair for the style will find plenty of dazzling art and touching sentiment here.

Is “Lu Over the Wall” the next Oscar nominee from GKIDS? Probably not. But take note of this company and the films they’re bringing to Pittsburgh; you, and your kids, will be glad you did.

My Rating: 7/10

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