Isao Takahata’s Pom Poko follows a gang of shapeshifting raccoons as they hatch a series of fur-brained schemes to stop humans from destroying their forest home. Let’s call it Avotter.
Where Studio Ghibli’s best films weave ecological themes into the story, Pom Poko is much more on-the-nose, with one raccoon eventually pleading directly into camera like a bushy-tailed Charlie Chaplin. But it’s a plea that feels earned, as we’ve spent 2 hours getting to know these adorable bandits of the animal kingdom, and the damage we humans have inflicted upon them in the name of urban development. It is a little long and occasionally repetitive, but one cannot fault Ghibli’s benevolent imagination and animation, whose influences range from ukiyo-e prints to Animal Farm.
The use of cuddly, anthropomorphised raccoons (the shapeshifting Tanuki of Japanese folklore) helps us and particularly younger viewers to see the world from a nature-centric perspective. What Western audiences might find strange is how significant a role the creatures’ scrotums play in proceedings. Not even Guardians of the Galaxy went that far. Although if James Gunn is allowed back then that is a very real possibility. Or if you prefer, a possum with ability.
This endearing eco-fable lacks the all-round majesty of Ghibli’s great human-vs-nature feature Princess Mononoke, but it has heart, humour and a number of wonderfully weird scenes, especially the ‘goblin parade’ sequence. Pom Poko may not be the dog’s bollocks, but it’s definitely the raccoon’s knackers.