The Legend of Hei, based on the web series from director MTJJ, combines impressive fantasy-world building with gorgeous animation, humor, action, and outright adorable characters.
The Legend of Hei Review
Following the destruction of his forest home, Hei, a young cat spirit, is forced out into the world in search of shelter. After an unfortunate run-in with mean human beings, Hei is rescued by a group of spirit creatures and human-like beings, all with special powers. Hei learns more about the power he possesses and how to shape shift from cat and fierce giant cat into a humanoid boy with cat ears and tail.
Just as he begins to grow comfortable in his new home with Stormend and the others, a mysterious Guild enforcer named Infinity shows up and quickly takes Hei away from his friends. When he realizes escaping Infinity is impossible, Hei settles in for the long journey to the Guild where he discovers not everything is as it seems.
With gorgeous animation, humor, and action-packed sequences, The Legend of Hei is not only a film families will enjoy watching together but that fans of anime will equally fall in love with. If you have experienced Studio Ghibli's Totoro and Avatar: The Last Airbender, you will recognize that at its heart is an ecological tale woven together with magical, high speed action.
That tale is told alongside some absolutely beautiful animation. The film retains a lot of the character design established in the web series. However the naturalistic settings make the scenery stunning and draw the viewer into the lushness of Hei's world. While it is clear that MTJJ drew inspiration from other anime features, The Legend of Hei still feels unique. The way he incorporates the hand drawn animation with the picturesque backgrounds is brilliant. Allowing the background to remain consistent throughout many shots allows the audience to remain grounded in the story instead of getting lost within jarring scene changes.
Though the film may come off as just something cute to watch, the story goes much deeper. Yes, Hei is probably one of the cutest antagonists out there at the moment there is a lot more to this big-eyed kitty than meets the eye. He has powers like the other spirits and enforcers around him, however his are rare and unfortunately put a target on his back. That target gets him into a lot of trouble and leads to some thrilling scenes.
The story is teeming with little details that may be missed on the first viewing, especially if you are distracted by the overall beauty of the world these characters inhabit. The opposite viewpoints of the Guild and those like Stormend are rooted in a conflict from long ago, one that the child Hei is thrust into without warning. Like Hei who wonders who really is the bad guy, so too does the audience. The Legend of Hei asks us to decide that in this case of the Guild and Stormed if right and wrong is really so black and white.
The Legend of Hei is the kind of film that packs in cuteness, heart, and a lot of incredible action for animation fans of all ages. With its debut coming to the US I hope in the future to see more of Hei and his spirit friends.
The Legend of Hei is available to stream through March 14 at the New York International Children's Film Festival. Look for it on digital via Shout! Factory April 20 and on Blu-ray/DVD May 11. It is recommenced for ages 9+. Parents be advised there are a few curse words including d**n and *ss.