What Parents Need To Know Before Taking Their Kids To See The Boy & The Heron

The new Studio Ghibli film is getting rave reviews, and has been nominated for a Golden Globe. But should you take your kids to see it?

If your family adores classic Studio Ghibli films, like My Neighbor Totoro or Kiki’s Delivery Service, you may have been excited to hear that there would be a new Ghibli film in 2023. When The Boy and The Heron was released on Dec. 8, it was met almost immediately with rave reviews. It has a 90% from audiences and 96% from critics on Rotten Tomatoes, it’s up for a Golden Globe (Miyazaki’s first) and is all but certain to receive attention at the Academy Awards next March. The movie itself is being called legendary director and Ghibli co-founder Hayao Miyazaki’s “final” film (time will tell if that’s really true). It has also been said to be his most autobiographical, though it is officially based on a Japanese novel from 1937 titled How Do You Live? If you’re a film lover, this movie may be high on your to-watch list. But can your kids enjoy it too? Here’s what families should consider before taking the kids to see The Boy and The Heron.

The Boy and The Heron is rated PG-13.

The Boy and The Heron earned a PG-13 rating for “some violent content/bloody images and smoking.” And the trailer doesn’t pull punches about the kinds of images viewers can expect, and though it is immediately gripping, it’s also clear that the film centers around dark themes. In even just the few minutes shown in the trailer, we see a woman melt to the touch and plenty of flames. We hear Robert Pattison as the voice of a heron, guiding the main character — 12 year old Mahito — on his journey with a rather creepy, raspy voice.

In other words, if you’re wondering if this movie is appropriate for your kid, you’re not the only one. A reddit user asked the Studio Ghibli (r/Ghibli) subreddit if the film would be appropriate for his 4-year-old and 6-year-old, who had loved other Ghibli films, like Kiki’s Delivery Service, but were scared by Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle. In response, Reddit users who are Ghibli fans overwhelmingly agreed that the kids are likely too young for the film, calling out both “intense and slightly violent scenes” as well as complex, emotional themes that would likely go way over the kids heads. “I’m 29 and I mostly didn’t understand what was happening,” added one Redditor.

The trailer for The Boy and The Heron, the new Miyazaki film from Studio Ghibli.

Another post in the r/Ghibli subreddit simply titled “PSA: The Boy and the Heron is not a movie for young children,” however, stirred up some gentle debate. The original poster mentions the length and intensity of the film, and some commenters jumped in to agree.

“I had us lined up to go tonight with our fairly young kids, elected to actually read a synopsis...and yeah I’m getting treated for cancer right now, not really up for the plot of ‘coping with losing a mother’ at present,” one commented. However, other Reddit users voiced the possibility that some young kids can handle these heavy themes, saying: “My 5 and 7 yr olds enjoyed it. Kids like complex themes more than people give them credit. Every kid is different, but I wanted to offer an opposite experience in case any other parents in the comments have doubts.”

As ever, ultimately, you know your kid best. Even if the themes are ones that you decide are appropriate for your child, you may want to consider the two-hour run time, which can be a real challenge for little kids.

In The Boy and the Heron, heavy subject matter may be too much for little kids (spoilers ahead).

Set in Japan during World War II, the movie reckons explicitly with extremely dark themes. Calling out “smoking” and “self-harm” as themes parents may not want to expose their young child to, Common Sense Media suggests that the film is best suited for kids 10 and up, and of course with a PG-13 rating, that’s likely spot-on. In reviews and Reddit conversations, it seems that if there is any trauma in your family — a close relative dealing with a terminal illness, perhaps — this movie may hit way too hard, regardless of your kids’ age, as it opens with the death of his mother in a hospital fire, and her death reverberates through the entire film. It’s easy to see how watching 120 minutes of a movie centered around a child reckoning with his mother’s death might upset a child under 10 (or even older, if they’re sensitive).

Older kids and adults, however, may enjoy Miyazaki’s “final” film.

A star-studded English voice cast, featuring Christian Bale, Florence Pugh, Mark Hamil, and Robert Pattison, coupled with the uniquely powerful themes and images that director Hayao Miyazaki is known for mean that this movie is a must-see for older film lovers. Maybe get a sitter and leave the kids to enjoy something a little more age-appropriate, while the grown-ups go take in a deeply expressive animated movie made just for them.

The Boy and The Heron is in theaters now, and is expected to become available to stream on Max in early 2024.