Let me just get right down to it. This isn't really a review so much as my personal thoughts, so whatever.
Story: A little lamb named Chirin lives with his mother in the meadows on a farm with other sheep. He is happy and full of life though a little too precocious and frisky. His mother warns him never to go beyond the fence because on a very ominous looking mountain lives the Wolf King which loves to eat lambs. Chirin doesn't really pay any mind to it until one night the sheep are attacked by the Wolf King and his mother dies. Chirin is overcome with the thought of revenge and wants to become a pupil under the Wolf King so that he can grow as strong as him and defeat him.
First off it acts like a cutesy little Disney movie (indeed it has a very Disneyesque artstyle, especially when it comes to drawing cutesy animals) but then becomes dark really quick, almost hilariously so.
"Haha look Mama! Mmm, clover!!"
"RAAAAAAAAAGE!!!! Raaaaaawr! Baaaa!"
And from then on it's just dark. Well as dark as an animated movie centered around talking animals can get. Which is not that dark, just amusingly angsty and serious. What is a failure of the movie to me is that it pushes such themes as revenge and joining forces with your enemy for personal gain in such a short amount of time. 90 minutes isn't super short, actually, but somehow they put too much exposition and not enough development. I really don't remember where the time went watching it and not having enough to show for it.
And I disagree with the idea that Disney wouldn't handle subject matter like this. I mean, what about The Hunchback of Notre Dame? The thing about it is that "fridge horror" is where Disney can really shine without telling children the true horrors of blah blah blah.
I watched the English dub and I liked the Chirin theme, though being part of a choir I could tell it should've had a bit of tweaking with the vowels and diphthongs in the lyrics. There was that as a recurring theme as well as a darker and more ...cynical version of it that played a bit when Chirin had transformed into Hell Ram Prime, and then there was a kind of dumb mini-theme that went along with Chirin and the Wolf King as the tag team of awesomeness. The narrator had a deep storyteller voice but I felt it stood out too much and just jarred me out of the "flow" of the story (though the flow wasn't really there to begin with).
It's dated, alright. Some of the background is shaded and blended but the characters are practically one color with nothing to gravitate from it. The running sequences (and there are a lot of them) are okay, I guess but when Chirin was walking or cantering as a lamb it looked out of place, like he was not part of the environment and his animation was slapped onto the background after drawing it all out.
This movie reminds me of the animated movie of Charlotte's Web for some reason, actually. It has bright moments and dark moments (the rat in that movie is none too pretty to look at. Remember his ode to junk food at the fair?)
Not much character at all, with either of them. Wolf King is ruthless but willing to train Chirin I guess on a whim and Chirin is just..Chirin. He acts moody in the last 5 minutes of the movie but it's not really deep or emotional. I really don't care.
Probably because it's a kid's movie.
Overall this movie falls flat with me in everything except the catchy theme.