**1/2 (out of four)
When Italian hotshot Caproni (voiced by Stanley Tucci) tells young aviation fan Jiro Horikoshi (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) that “airplanes are beautiful dreams” and engineers turn dreams to reality, any viewer not totally married to his or her career may drop everything to follow a new path. In the gorgeously animated “The Wind Rises,” flight is a glorious innovation, and the movement of ideas from paper to sky and machines through the air is simply transporting.
How disappointing, then, that the film, reportedly the last for legendary writer/director Hayao Miyazaki (“Spirited Away”), resists greatness and often, even goodness. The story’s based on the life of Horikoshi, an actual designer of Japanese WWII fighter planes. At first, “The Wind Rises” makes dazzling use of the boy’s dreams—his imagination lets him watch massive planes soar and even stand on their wings. His determination years later to become an engineer, since he believed his nearsightedness prevented him from being a pilot, may not be a particularly sexy plot development, but it’s a case of someone doing the work to fulfill a goal.
Yet whenever the wonderful animation isn’t substituting for a compelling story, “The Wind Rises” is just so dry. A mild love story and bout with disease have little depth, and the film leaps over large gaps in time only to intently focus on monotonous developments in Jiro’s work life. It reminded me of “Gravity” in that I loved looking at it, but had no interest in listening along.
Still, there’s no question that “The Wind Rises” rises above a very underwhelming crop of recent animated efforts (excluding the 4-star “The Lego Movie,” of course), and it’s a tad better than the clump of blah efforts Miyazaki’s delivered in recent years (the massively overrated, weird “Ponyo”). At times, “Wind” feels delightfully old-fashioned, almost classic. If only it fulfilled that promise.
Note: Matt reviewed the film based on its Japanese-language, subtitled version he received for Chicago Film Critics Association awards consideration.
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