In the lovely final minutes of this girlhood fable, we hear a whisper-soft ballad whose lyrics begin, “Never had that many friends growing up/So I learned to be okay with just me.” The heart-wrenching words refer to shy tomboy Anna (Hailee Steinfeld) and her journey of personal discovery with her mysterious blond companion Marnie (Mad Men’s Kiernan Shipka). But they also evoke the Niagara of generosity poured from the Japanese hand-drawn-animation house Studio Ghibli, the maker of My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away, which has for more than 30 years been a sanctuary for odd ducks of all ages.
When Marnie Was There is Ghibli’s last planned feature, and though its bulky script (based on a British ghost story) keeps it from the magnificent heights of the studio’s classics, the animation is dazzling. In the bright green marsh that separates Anna from where Marnie lives, the sunlight reflects off the water with such spectacular warmth that it’s beatific. And the film gains poignancy in its most intense scene, as Anna stands with the tide rising over her, weeping for one more second with her only friend. B+