Tuesday, March 01, 2011

NYICFF ’11: Welcome to the Space Show

Are five kids enough to save the world? Throw in a talking dog and you’re pretty much set, assuming it is an anime universe. Though the Japanese elementary students only expected to catch-up on some studying and generally get on each others’ nerves during their annual end-of-summer camp-out, they find themselves on a tour of outer space in Koji Masunari’s Welcome to the Space Show (trailer here), a science fiction anime feature appropriate for all ages that screens during the fast-approaching 2011 New York International Children’s Film Festival.

Since the summer is almost over, the Fab Five are about to enjoy a week without parents, under the supervision of Kiyoshi, a compulsively responsible sixth grader. Amane, an otherwise sweet-tempered second grader, has been feuding with her tomboyish fifth-grader cousin Natsuki. Rounding out their ranks are Koji the third-grade bookworm and the shy fourth-grader Noriko (who doesn’t really get a schtick). Roaming through the forest, they stumble across an injured dog, who they patch up as best they can. A fast healer, he surprises everyone when he pops up and introduces himself as “Pochi” a traveler from another planet.

Out of gratitude, Pochi takes them on a quick tour of the Moon, including all the cool parts we never see from Earth. Unfortunately, his report of his terrestrial escape is a bit too effective, grounding space transit between the Earth and its satellite. Now the kids will have to make a connection through Pochi’s dog planet, but they have attracted the unwanted attention of some strange creatures. Evidently, wasabi is like the Melange spice in Dune and Natsuki is carrying a big bag full of the contraband. Schemes are afoot that seem to involve the Space Show, a wildly popular tripped-out variety show featuring a pop idol canine whom Pochi has decidedly mixed feelings about.

Masunari creates some lushly bizarre alien worlds and delights in the eccentricities of his aliens. Welcome always looks great, but reality show superstar Susan Boyle’s “Who I was Born to Be” sounds weird beyond words as the film’s theme song. Of course, there are also lots of talking dogs (what kid wouldn’t dig that?). In fact, Pochi is probably both the film’s most nuanced character and its most expressive figure. Fittingly, he is frequently paired with Amane, the sharpest delineated of the humans.

With its kids vs. the world themes, Welcome definitely skews towards younger viewers. There are also plenty of appropriate lessons about the value of friendship and teamwork. Yet, it is the film’s ever-present sense of wonder that sci-fi fans will appreciate. Good for kids and okay for adults, Welcome screens on March 6th, 12th, and 20th at NYICFF venues throughout the City.