Kensuke’s Kingdom follows the adventures of a boy called Michael and his dog Stella who are shipwrecked on a remote desert island. Terrified and struggling to survive, Michael soon discovers that they share the island with Kensuke — a mysterious old Japanese man who has been living on the island for decades with a family of orangutans as his companions. Keeping their distance, they treat each other with mutual suspicion. However as dangerous invaders appear on the horizon, it becomes clear they must join forces to save their fragile island paradise.
The film is directed by Neil Boyle and Kirk Hendry. Boyle started his career as an animator with Richard Williams on Who Framed Roger Rabbit and The Thief and the Cobbler, and more recently worked on Sherlock Gnomes and Ethel & Ernest. Hendry made a splash with his short film Junk, and has collaborated with Boyle on projects including Sylvain Chomet’s Simpsons couch gag.
The cast is led by Sally Hawkins, Cillian Murphy, Ken Watanabe, and Raffey Cassidy. Morpurgo’s novel is adapted for the screen by Frank Cottrell-Boyce, a novelist and screenwriter known for his collaborations with directors Michael Winterbottom and Danny Boyle.
At Cartoon Brew, we’ve been following Kensuke’s Kingdom since its earliest days. We published concept paintings in 2015 and premiered the concept teaser in 2017. At the time, the directors described the mixed-media approach they were developing. Said Boyle:
The natural world is an essential character in this story and one thing we were keen to achieve was an organic feel to the environment. We wanted to use reality, rather than model builds. We wanted it to look damp. With our test sequence, we filled it with many objects we found on the forest floor or rocks we pulled out of the [River] Thames. They all had their own wonderful slime, cobwebs, or dead bugs that you could never production design. We were curious to see what we could just find in nature and use.
It isn’t clear how much the filmmakers’ approach has since changed, if at all. But this experimental basis, the elegance of Morpurgo’s story, and the wealth of animation talent behind it make this film one to watch.
The film’s producers are Camilla Deakin and Ruth Fielding, co-founders of Lupus Films; Sarah Radclyffe, co-founder of major U.K. production company Working Title; and Barnaby Spurrier. Stephan Roelants is co-producing through Melusine, and Jean Labadie through Le Pacte. The U.K.’s Bankside Films is handling international sales.
(Image at top © Lupus Films.)