The Legend of Hei is a 2D animated feature from China. It is adapted from an animated web series and it was a box-office success in China last fall. Here’s my review.
A young cat demon is displaced from his forest home by human exploitation. He quickly finds a new home with demons who oppose the humans, but he gets captured by a human magician.
The animation is gorgeous. The cat is super simplified, but his shape is really interesting and expressive, and it lends itself to all kinds of cute and funny situations. It reminded me of the Pixar short Kitbull. Some of the landscapes are done in a unique style too, especially at the beginning of the film when the cat lives in the wilderness. And then the movie presents a bunch of ideas that provide a melting pot of visuals, like demons living undercover in human cities, creatures of ink coming off scrolls, imaginary houses built in metaphysical spaces and a demon guild that floats in the sky. The human character design has a more traditional anime-like design that’s a bit too safe and expected (you can tell who’s the baddie just by his look), but they don’t look bad either.
The story puts a twist on environmentalist films by pitching extremists against moderates. What’s even more unusual is that the main character has to question who are his friends and his foes. I think it would have had more impact if he knew his extremist friends for more than a day, but the movie does take about two thirds of its runtime to build his relationship with the human magician, which is the best part of the movie. The third arc is more like a formulaic anime with demons and magicians with elemental powers. Random rules are thrown in to serve the plot like “this ability kills its user”. Also, I was annoyed that they kept talking about the demon gild during the entire movie without actually getting there. They only get there at the end and they don’t even go inside!
There are moments of pure genius in the cat animation, beautiful landscapes and slow relationship building, but in the end it leans into anime tropes. It’s worth checking out if you like anime.