THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS
OK so bear in mind that this will be a very subjective review. I watched Wolf Children because I really liked Summer Wars and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, and because everyone said it was amazing and a tear-jerker. However by the time I finished watching it, I was just angry at it. Here's why:
This movie certainly ranks 10/10 for most frustrating movie I've ever watched. Not even ridiculously beautiful backgrounds and high quality art direction can save a film with slow, barely-there plot and irritating characters. I couldn't empathise with any of them because they consistently made dumb decisions for no reason (especially the mother) making me yell at the screen "why would you even do that?" which is what you really *don't* want your audience experience to be.
Let me list every significant moment that made me want to pull my hair out: 1) woman in college gets pregnant after literally having sex with a wolf (calling him a wolf because he didn't even have the decency to change into a human for at least the duration of the act - call me a prude but I find bestiality really off-putting in a movie that is supposed to be about a cute family going about their lives), 2) woman casually accepts throwing away her entire life to raise a kid with her werewolf boyfriend (about whom we get the absolute minimum amount of backstory or any kind of characterisation beyond "he looks cool" and "he's a werewolf with a difficult childhood"), 3) woman gives birth at home without a midwife or anybody to help in case something goes wrong, 4) woman gets pregnant YET AGAIN, 5) gives birth at home AGAIN, 6) werewolf dad leaves the house and inexplicably dies, 7) mother takes her unvaccinated children and moves to the middle of nowhere.
Pause. I understand that I pretty much just summarised the first quarter of the movie, but this is exactly why I found Wolf Children to be so exhausting. And yes, a lot of these criticisms are because of my personal beliefs, but hey I never said this review was going to be objective.
Before I continue let me mention the only character I liked in this movie; old man Nirasaki, the family's cranky neighbour that teaches the mother the basics of farming, because he sees how irritatingly useless she is. Over 10 minutes of this film are used to show us how hard-working she is. In general, Wolf Children manages to stretch a plot that could have been shown in 30 minutes into 2 hours by filling it with repetitive, redundant scenes that do not advance the plot. The only time this isn't done is in the quite brilliant lateral shot that shows the children growing up (shortening 4 years into a few seconds without using any cuts or dialogue). And this is one of the most frustrating things about this movie: it's beautiful. Artfully crafted, brilliantly animated. Which is the reason why I think so many people were fooled by it. Sure it has its nice moments, but their effect is diluted by the blandness of the rest of the film. Don't get me wrong, I can appreciate slow paced, slice-of-life films, but Wolf Children's pacing was all wrong. It started with an interesting premise and then did nothing with it.
But let me come back to the frustrating moments near the end of the movie (because I honestly can't remember much that happened during the middle of the film - it was so nothingy):
During a storm, the mother chases after her werewolf son who goes into the forest (which he has been doing regularly, for months) instead of picking up her daughter who is stranded at school. She calls after him over and over again, almost gets attacked by a bear, falls down a cliff, and just when you think that something significant will actually happen in this movie, it turns out she's just fine after her son picks her up and just dumps her outside the forest. Her psychopath of a son is 10 at that point. And I am 110, having aged prematurely waiting for this damn movie to end.
TL;DR the beauty of this film was wasted on it.