The Imaginary Review

We urge you to let go and enjoy Yoshiyuki Momose’s animated marvel, The Imaginary. It’ll make you feel like a kid again.

Last Updated on June 21, 2024

Plot: Studio Ponoc’s The Imaginary portrays the depths of humanity and creativity through the eyes of young Amanda and her imaginary companion, Rudger, a boy no one can see imagined by Amanda to share her thrilling make-believe adventures. But when Rudger, suddenly alone, arrives at The Town of Imaginaries, where forgotten Imaginaries live and find work, he faces a mysterious threat.

Review: When I was a child, I became very sick. I spent much time in and out of the hospital and had few opportunities to make new friends. To combat the loneliness, I imagined a new friend, January. She was a young ghost girl who followed me everywhere I went, causing mischief, encouraging me to feel better, and listening when I needed to cleanse myself of negative thoughts about my uncertain recovery. As the years passed and I got better, January began to disappear. Three nights ago, I watched Yoshiyuki Momose’s animated marvel, The Imaginary, and memories of January came flooding back. Was it Momose’s goal to resurrect my old friend and remind me of days when I could be anyone or go anywhere using the power of imagination? I want to think so.

Prepare yourselves for regression! Studio Ponoc‘s The Imaginary can take hold of your memory and unlock long-forgotten events. It’s the type of animated film that inspires you to think beyond borders and imagine impossible worlds, urgencies, and companions. In the movie directed by Yoshiyuki Momose, the Japanese filmmaker uses every trick in the book learned while working at Studio Ghibli on films like Grave of the Fireflies, Princess Mononoke, and The Tale of Princess Kaguya to craft a spellbinding adventure fueled by creativity, suspense, and darkness.

The Imaginary, review, Studio Ponoc, Netflix

In The Imaginary, the young Amanda (Evie Kiszel) and her imaginary companion, Rudger (Louie Rudge-Buchanan), a boy no one can see, imagined by Amanda to share her thrilling make-believe adventures, find themselves at an unexpected crossroads when a life-threatening accident tears them apart. Rudger’s beginning to disappear without Amanda to imagine new playtimes. As his memory fades with every passing moment, Rudger fights the natural order of an imaginary friend’s mortality to reunite with his best friend. Rudger’s journey is perilous, but Amanda needs him, so he’ll stop at nothing to reconnect and comfort his creator in her time of need.

When I met my partner, I told her two things: I’m not ticklish and don’t cry at movies. Welp, I can throw that second claim out the window because I was on the verge of tears for most of The Imaginary. At the film’s start, I anticipated having less in common with Amanda and Rudger. As I settled into the duo’s thick British accents, and it did take some time, I learned that Amanda’s father was gone. Dead. This aspect of the film put me in the front car of an emotional roller coaster as I watched a young, lonely girl process her father’s eternal absence by creating absurd worlds and a confidant in Rudger.

Visually, The Imaginary is a tour de force of hand-drawn animation and techniques that invent new ways to display light and shadow. The film immediately establishes itself as a kaleidoscope, reflecting a boundless spectrum of color, character, and emotion. In addition to the undeniable power of Amanda and Rudger’s bond felt in every frame, other characters stand out among a cast of hundreds.

I watched the English-language version of the film for this review, so I can confidently say Hayley Atwell fans will be pleased with her performance as Amanda’s mother, Lizzie. Lizzie is widowed and on the verge of moving herself and Amanda to a new area. The pressure to make the right decisions and secure the future is overwhelming. Lizzie has forgotten how to think beyond what she can see in her struggle to balance her responsibilities. There’s no time to entertain her daughter’s flights of fancy or accept the existence of an imaginary friend in the face of a migraine. She’ll have none of it. Atwell understands the assignment and brings a rich and emotional voice performance, making Lizzie one of the film’s stand-out characters.

If you plan to watch The Imaginary with young children, prepare to field existential questions from curious minds and pause the movie when it gets too scary. Make no mistake about the film’s limitless color palette, creative and endearing character design, and jaw-dropping visuals. The Imaginary invites an element of dread rarely portrayed in contemporary animated cinema. Much of this is thanks to Jeremy Swift’s performance as the imaginary friend devouring villain Mr. Bunting.

Mr. Bunting struck me as a cross between Captain Haddock from The Adventures of Tintin, the Grey Heron from Hayao Miyazaki’s The Boy and the Heron, and Pennywise the Clown from Stephen King’s It. Swift plays Bunting as a living nightmare with an appetite for imaginary friends and the power to alter reality. When Mr. Bunting unhinges his mighty maw, a vortex not unlike Pennywise’s Deadlights threatens to consume imaginaries whole. He travels with a silent, nameless imaginary companion who aids him in his sinister business. She looks like the girl from The Ring as if she were on her way to private school. The girl has all the powers of an imaginary, but without a child to invite her on impossible adventures, Mr. Bunting’s company has numbed her heart. Moments spent with Bunting’s imaginary friend offer some of the film’s most terrifying scenes, with Bunting’s wicked intentions as icing on a cake baked in a haunted patisserie.

After Amanda’s accident, Rudger learns that more imaginaries exist. They’ve made a home at the public library, where ideas reside in tomes, comprehensive collections, and internet pathways. Authoritatively voiced by Sky Katz, Emily acts as a den mother to the congregation of imaginaries. Eager to help acclimatize Rudger to his new directive as a one-and-done (with some exceptions) imaginary friend for children worldwide, Emily commands respect while ensuring every imaginary is safe after being forgotten. Despite her upbeat attitude and compassion, Emily harbors a sadness that helps explain her protective nature. Katz brings a fanciful and urgent performance that will stand out.

Zinzan, a large cat with heterochromia (one red eye and one blue eye), is ushering stray imaginaries to the library. Voiced by the legendary LeVar Burton (though he sounds like Nick Offerman here), Zinzan is like a furry Charon, ferrying imaginaries to an afterlife where they get repurposed and reborn if they’re lucky. Burton’s voice is warm and welcoming, almost intoxicating. It’s perfect for a kind-hearted guide who accepts ear scritches instead of coins to float you across the imaginary equivalent of the river of Acheron.

Finally, we arrive at Louie Rudge-Buchanan and Evie Kiszel as Rudger and Amanda, respectively. While their line delivery felt stressed initially, I eventually settled into their character’s conversational rhythm and cadence. Rudge-Buchanan and Kiszel bring the house down with dynamic and powerful voice performances. I could feel the solidity of Rudger and Amanda’s bond immediately, and I felt torn to pieces when they separated. The duo shines during the film’s finale, with heightened emotions and performances lending to the seriousness of their challenges.

A rousing soundtrack by Agehasprings and Kenji Tamai amplifies the action, wonderment, and hallucinatory visions of worlds created and torn apart. Orchestral arrangements pepper The Imaginary with delightfully spicy songs ranging from rousing orchestral arrangements to soothing piano lullabies. Smartly used, the music helps shape Amanda and Rudger’s world, making either side of the veil exciting, serene, and unpredictable.

While The Imaginary drips with talent, inspiring storytelling, and breathtaking animation. I did find myself frustrated by the unwritten rules of the imaginary world. Throughout the film, Emily shares her knowledge about the imaginary world with Rudger, with no limit to what can and will happen. The lack of clarity is likely on purpose, emphasizing the absence of limitations in the imaginary realm—however, my questions about how the world functions continue to linger. I could be overanalyzing this aspect of the film, but here I am a day later, and I’m still wondering what else Emily is hiding about the imaginary world. It’s the one aspect of the film that feels incomplete. Still, it’s a minor gripe; I almost didn’t mention it here. Way to paint a flawless picture and then spill the paint, Steve!

I want people to watch The Imaginary. It’s a fantasy epic on par with some of Studio Ghibli and Don Bluth’s best and most impactful works. If you’re unafraid to let the movie into your heart, it could destroy you, and that’s a good thing. Being reminded of when life was more innocent, filled with escapism, and was just a spaceship made out of cardboard away is something everyone could use. Who knows, you might remember a dear and invisible friend long forgotten.

The Imaginary invites you on the adventure of a lifetime on July 5, 2024, on Netflix.

The Imaginary



Source: JoBlo

About the Author

Born and raised in New York, then immigrated to Canada, Steve Seigh has been a editor, columnist, and critic since 2012. He started with Ink & Pixel, a column celebrating the magic and evolution of animation, before launching the companion YouTube series Animation Movies Revisited. He's also the host of the Talking Comics Podcast, a personality-driven audio show focusing on comic books, film, music, and more. You'll rarely catch him without headphones on his head and pancakes on his breath.