While mostly spoiler-free, there are one or two references to events in the film. Consider yourself warned.
This movie is just massively overrated. It's too long. The plot drags, and then when the story finally revs up, things start to not make sense. At the two hour mark, the movie decides that it wants to become the last two episodes of Neon Genesis Evangelion for 10 minutes. The direction is over-the-top at times, and while the music is adequate, it is rather inconsistent. Overall, I just don't see where the love is coming from. It's just like all the other animated Haruhi Suzumiya nonsense.
... What the hell?
Good, you can hear me. Now, I think it's time for a quiz. Take your time. I want you to think carefully before answering-
When you were watching this movie, didn't you have fun?
The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya is a feature length movie based off the light novel of the same name by Nagaru Tanigawa. The plot is relatively straightforward- it's a week before Christmas, and Haruhi decides for the rest of them that the only logical option is to throw a Christmas hotpot at the school. She ignores Kyon's weak protests, essentially tells them all that they're going to come, flaunts school regulations, and forces Mikuru into an incredibly revealing Santa outfit. Overall, just a typical day.
Then, two days later, Kyon wakes up to find that the world has been completely transformed. Koizumi no longer attends North High. Asakura has returned, Mikuru and Tsuruya don't have a clue who he is, and Asakura, Mikuru and Yuki are all regular high school girls. And Haruhi Suzumiya has completely, well... disappeared. Not only is she not in the class anymore, but except Kyon even remembers that she existed.
Now, Kyon tries to figure out exactly who, or what, caused the world to go crazy (my bet is on Elmo), and figure out how to reverse it. And he has to decide which world he likes more- the world he's in now, or the world he had been living in with Haruhi?
Now, let's get this out of the way- the movie is far from perfect. The key problem is the movie is simply too faithful, having a running time of over 150 minutes. There is no excuse for a movie that is essentially just a character study to last more than two hours. There are plenty of points where scenes simply outlive their welcome- for instance, the buildup to the plot of the film is about 30 minutes long, and it feels like there are plenty of scenes that could have had a few seconds trimmed off.
For instance, there are multiple scenes with Kyon talking with Taniguchi and Kunakida that outlive their welcome, and there are a few too many dramatic beats and pauses that could easily have been removed.
There are several points where characters seem to lack information simply for the sake of suspense. Then, once the plot really kicks into gear, we drift into the sci-fi technobabble that has always plagued the series- characters have abilities that simply aren't explained, and there are multiple occasions where we are simply asked not to question why characters have certain powers.
And let's not forget the point when the movie hits the two hour mark, and we get an outslaught of symbolism that would probably make Hideaki Anno pause and say "You know, you should probably tone it down just a tad".
However, if you hate the story because of this, you are completely missing the point. Sure, the story has its problems, but in comparison, they are incredibly small. The point of the movie isn't to have some kind of perfect narrative, and if you go into the movie expecting one, then you aren't going to get the experience that you should. The point is to be a thoughtful character study, and in this regard, the movie completely succeeds.
Every single scene we learn more and more about the world Kyon is trapped in, and it's just too easy to connect with him and sympathize with his delemna. The plot flows incredibly well from one scene to the next, the transitions never feeling stilted or artificial. When you learn what's really going on, and the reason why Kyon's world has turned upside down, the entire movie makes a great deal of sense. Everything adds up in the end, and you can tell that a lot of thought went into the script.
All the dialogue flows incredibly well, and it all feels natural. But most importantly, it is clear how much love was put into this project. Every single scene has clearly been thought through, a great deal of pains are taken to remain faithful to the source material, and the story is simply incredibly heartfelt. There are so many beautiful character moments, and so much subtlety and subtext, that you can tell- this was written by somebody who truly loves this series. And that so much of that love radiates from the film that you just can't help but get infected by it.
Sure, the movie becomes a bit of a mindscrew two hours in- when the movie decides that it wants to have some introspection. But so what? It isn't a mind screw for the sake of being wacky (Looking at you, order of episodes for season 1), or in a desperate attempt to fit the preestablished tone of the series (Looking at you, Endless Eight). But because the writer genuinely wants to make you think. They wants you to empathize with the character, and to be able to view things from his eyes. And it works beautifully.
There really isn't that much to say about the graphics. The movie is beautiful, the animation incredibly smooth, and all the character designs realistic and well done. My only complaint is the fact that for some bizarre reason, the Powers that Be deemed it neccesary to have both a title card at the beginning of the film, and then the opening sequence that accompanies an episode in the anime. Sure, it's well animated, but it's just so stilted and unneccesary. It drags you out of the story just to jerk you around for 60 seconds. The direction is simply excellent, and incredibly professional. Sure, the various angle shifting and zooming in and out gets a bit old, but 99% of the time it works incredibly well.
The music is fantastic. It ranges from your typical peppy slice-of-life tunes, to some excellent dramatic scores. The music almost always sounds appropriate, although there are one or two musical choices that caused me to raise an eyebrow. The sound effects all work incredibly well too. Meanwhile, the voice actors take a superlative script, and create one of the best movie dubs I've seen in a long time. There is literally not a single performance I don't like: Crispin Freeman steals the show in every scene, and adds a colossal amount of personality to every single line. Wendee Lee, while somewhat weak early on, ends up providing a lot of energy to Haruhi.
Johnny Bosch and Stephanie Sheh, while not fantastic, both do a fine job with their roles. And while Michelle Ruff's typical Yuki voice makes me want to punch kittens, her voice acting when Yuki is a normal girl is just phenomeonal.
Even the side characters are just amazing. Despite only being in a couple scenes, Kari Wahlgren manages to add a colossal amount of emotion and personality to Tsuruya, making her character amazingly memorable. Sam Regal provides his typical solid job as Taniguchi, and despite being amazingly mediocre in the anime, Bridget Hoffman provides an amazing amount of personality and energy in her reprisal as Ryoko. Every single performance is amazingly done, and they all add a great deal of emotion to an already incredibly emotionally charged film.
And then you have one of the most touching ending themes I've heard in a long time. The music is great, it is sung well, and the lyrics are incredibly powerful.
Finally, you have the characters. Aside from Itsuki and Tsuruya, who could be replaced with cardboard cutouts, all the characters add something to the movie. They all are incredibly memorable, and play off each other amazingly well. The character moments are all poignant and amazingly emotional. There are moments like characters repositioning a book, or simply staring at each other, that have layers of subtext that will stick with you even after you turn the movie off.
It is unclear if this is the end of the Haruhi animated franchise. The story is at a decent stopping point, despite there being more ground that they could cover, and there has been no announcement of any further seasons or follow-up films. But I'm fine if this is the end. This is exactly how you should say farewell to Haruhi Suzumiya- with a story that will make you laugh, cry, and smile. A story that was written by somebody who truly cares about the series, and loves it just as much as the viewer does.
If you read the light novel, or watched the two seasons of the anime, watch this movie. You won't regret it.
overall score: 9/10