Release Date – 19th August 2022, Cert – PG, Run-time – 1 hour 40 minutes, Director – Ari Folman
Kitty (Ruby Stokes), the imaginary friend who Anne Frank (Emily Carey) wrote to in her diary, finds herself released into the streets of near-future Amsterdam, trying to find her missing friend.
Anxiety isn’t quite the right word to use when it comes to describing initial feelings towards Where Is Anne Frank. Nor is hesitant interest a pinpoint term. Whatever the right description may be for the first stretch of this animated feature, written and directed by Ari Folman, thoughts circle the mind as to just how the film is going to pull its concept off as we follow the imaginary friend who Anne Frank wrote to her her diary, Kitty (Ruby Stokes) come to life, roaming the streets of “a year from now” Amsterdam in search of her best friend. She’s confused and uncertain as to where to go in search for Anne, especially when everything around her seems to be plastered with her name – from the local theatre to the nearby school and bridge.
It’s within the pages of Anne’s diary, which she takes from the Anne Frank House, where Kitty initially finds her friend (voiced by Emily Carey). However, this is all in the past as we see Anne write to Kitty about hiding away from the Nazis in the secret apartment above where her father (Michael Maloney) worked. In some ways we see two films play out, gradually pulling together shared themes in ways that admittedly feel somewhat on-the-nose, at least when it comes to certain single lines of dialogue summing up the points of view of certain characters and what’s going on around them. However, on remembering that perhaps the target audience for this film is more family orientated, bearing the children in mind, there’s perhaps a more excusable feeling to such moments.
This being said, the film certainly doesn’t lean away from hiding details and events. There’s a darkness to it that helps it to get its points across, and frame them well for the younger audience. While initial threat is shown for Anne and her family in the form of towering Nazi soldiers, drenched in black and emblazoned with dark red swastikas and a white, emotionless mask-like face – it’s a simple design which is undeniably effective – the film dives deeper and feels better for it. “For all of history people have always found a minority to blame for everything bad that’s happened” Anne explains to Kitty as the latter views parallels in the modern world. A subplot involving refugees in Amsterdam begins to unfold in the not-quite-present. Mostly developing in the latter stages, after having been briefly referenced in the more on-the-nose, we can see where this is going details beforehand, there is again something interesting played out, especially in the way that Folman speaks to his audience.
Perhaps his, and his film’s, biggest connection is formed when it’s clear that certain things have been let go. The film lets go of itself and fully remembers the potential target family audience. It largely happens in the ‘a year from now’ sequences where things begin to develop and move along faster, creating a sense of interest in Kitty and the way in which she explores Anne’s impact on the world around her, the words which have echoed and those which need to be heard again – sometimes the same at once. It brings us to a central theme of “do everything you can to save just one single soul”. Something which is broadened in the past, where most points develop for later reference in the world which Kitty is scouring for any sign of her friend – and evasion from the police as they begin to search for her and the stolen diary.
There’s an early scene where Anne appears to parade down a street, cheerful music playing and colour blaring from the screen. She’s surrounded by people, largely those who she claims were in love with her at one point before the war broke out. It feels slightly odd when initially placed into the film, considering what it felt like it was building up just before and is part of what sets in the initial thought process as to how the film is going to handle its themes and elements. However, it’s quickly followed by a deeply contrasting description of the darkness the title figure’s world was plunged into by the Nazis. The freedom which was removed for her and many other Jews, and the lives that were put at risk. While they might sow an initial seed of slight uncertainty a number of moments within Where Is Anne Frank develop into something slightly bigger and more thoughtful.
It’s a matter of letting things develop and allowing for later reactions – again, the idea of the past echoing into the future, where a number of the best elements lie and the film works best for the family audience. It generally makes for an interesting piece of work which works best when you, and indeed the film itself, remember who the target audience is, and it feels like it may work rather well in speaking to them. While for other audience it might take a bit of time to properly click with the film and settle in to it there’s still a good piece of work delivered which forms interest in what it does and the way in which it uses its elements and forms a narrative, being particularly effective in the second half.
It may appear to be slightly on-the-nose at times, but this is part of the way in which Where Is Anne Frank begins to speak to its potential target audience, forming an interesting narrative with its elements. It might take a bit of time to settle into and realise its patterns and tones, but eventually there is a worthwhile watch alongside the message/s that are trying to be sent.