“The Boy and the Heron” has an excellent English dub (I’m partial to Florence Pugh as spunky pirate Kiriko, and Willem Dafoe has an achingly sad scene as a dying pelican), but Robert Pattinson’s performance as the titular Heron stands out as the cast member stretching themselves the most — not an easy task in a performing mode as limiting as voiceover dubbing.
The Heron boasts a grotesque design (it can transform into a half-human with the head bulging out of its beak), and Pattinson complements that with a squawking voice that sounds like Daffy Duck from Hell. The result? He’s unrecognizable.
As IndieWire reports from a conversation with GKIDS President Dave Jesteadt, the first choice for the part was Danny DeVito. However, Ghibli informed GKIDS that the Japanese actor, Masaki Suda, is a young heartthrob, so the dub casting should pick a closer analog. Hence, Robert Pattinson, who was “giddy” about the part and worked hard to make a good first impression on Voice Director Michael Sinterniklaas.
As Jesteadt notes, the casting was inspired thanks to Pattinson stretching himself beyond his pretty boy looks in other roles. Refusing to be boxed in by “Twilight,” he’s played plenty of unlikable and disgusting characters since, including the grungiest onscreen Batman yet. The Heron is the latest example of this winning pattern.