Lu Over the Wall ★★★½

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For Japanese animation aficionados whose primary point of reference is the output of Studio Ghibli, Masaaki Yuasa’s vibrant, toe-tapping fable 'Lu Over the Wall' will come as a modest surprise. This isn’t to say that the sprightly 'Lu' isn’t influenced to an extent by Ghibli’s iconic works. Heck, it’s unthinkable that *any* kid-friendly Japanese animated feature post-1990 or so wouldn’t evince at least a drop or two of Ghibli’s stylistic DNA in its genome. In the case of Yuasa’s feature, its clearest antecedent from Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata’s legendary studio is 'Ponyo' (2008), in that the films share some plot and tonal similarities.

However, this facile comparison does a disservice to the vitality and range of Yuasa’s artistry – and that of his new studio, Science Saru, which claims Lu as its second feature film (following 'The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl'). With anime series such as 'The Tatami Galaxy' (2010), 'Ping Pong' (2014), and 'Space Dandy' (2014), Yuasa has evinced a willingness to flit jubilantly and hyperactively between myriad styles of animation. In 'Lu Over the Wall', this tendency is, if somewhat reigned in, still on energetic display.

At any given moment, the film might suddenly swerve from its hand-painted backgrounds and “orthodox” anime character designs into impressionistic scribbles, whimsical Flash-style shapes, or even LCD pixel animation. Its characters sometimes abruptly take on the squishiness of the anthropomorphic animals in a Tex Avery short, or mutate into grotesque parodies that seem to be intruding from a Ralph Baskhi or Sylvain Chomet feature. In short, 'Lu' is a gratifying and delightful sensory experience, even if its fairy-tale sensibility is thoroughly familiar and its story never quite justifies its long-ish running time...

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