A distinctive and impressive animated movie about the wartime experiences of the Netherlands’ most famous victim of the Holocaust, Ari Folman’s Where Is Anne Frank is an emotive and timely tribute to victims of global injustice. Himself the son of concentration camp survivors, Folman imbues his latest film with a powerful urgency and topicality. But its tonal missteps prevent it from being as focused as it might have been.
Where Is Anne Frank imagines the journey of the teenager’s imaginary friend, Kitty (Ruby Stokes), to whom Anne (Emily Carey) dedicated and addressed her diary. Kitty, a red-headed gentile, comes alive in 2021 Amsterdam but doesn’t know what happened to her best friend. Kitty’s discovery about Anne’s fate – and revelations about the contemporary treatment of refugees today – are the dual storylines of Where Is Anne Frank. That’s not to mention a caper involving a stolen diary, a police hunt and a love story. Where Is Anne Frank strains to keep kids interested despite its dark themes, and struggles to juggle two vastly disparate audiences.
That said, youngsters will certainly engage with Where Is Anne Frank more than the book which is on the syllabus in scores of countries worldwide. Indeed, it takes the diaries further with modern-day comparisons to the plight of refugees and Mediterranean migrants shafted from rich country to rich country. That equivalence might seem far-fetched, but Folman’s own family history of Shoah victimhood justifies the reach.
It also gives Where Is Anne Frank the chance to be for something. Films about the Holocaust alone are typically intentionally bleak. They depict the horrors, which for most is traumatic enough. But Folman’s decision to juxtapose Anne’s story with a refugee toddler, whose family are on the precipice of deportation, allows his film to end positively and radicalise young people toward concerted action.
There’s also a subplot involving the Netherlands’ misuse of the diary as a national heirloom of sorts. The bumbling policeman chasing down the escaped Kitty says the bestselling book is “Our greatest spiritual treasure since Rembrandt”, a callous but widely held position among those who’ve forgotten its political significance. Where Is Anne Frank does its best work when it grapples with the legacy of Anne Frank amongst powerful grown-ups.
But those themes will likely be lost among the young audience it’s aimed at, in the same way its love story and playful humour won’t do much for the adults in the audience. Folman has made an admirable film with enviable moral goals, though its tonal messiness might stop it reaching as wide an audience as it should.