Review Date: August 27, 2002
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Writer: Hayao Miyazaki
Producers: Toshio Suzuki
Daveigh Chase as Chihiro
Lauren Holly as Mom
Suzanne Pleshette as Twin Witches
A girl and her parents stumble upon a seemingly abandoned theme park and stop to check it out. Once inside, the girl's parents are turned into pigs and she is taken into a "spirit" world, in which she must pass certain "tests" in order to get her parents back and return to the human dimension. Witches, monsters, spirits, dragons and giant babies...ensue.
An epic Japanese animated film which recently knocked the King of the World's TITANIC off the top spot as the highest grossing film in that country, this fantasy flick kept me engaged for most of its runtime with its ALICE IN WONDERLAND-esque story, its many strange characters, its adorable lead character and its wondrous score. What kept it from truly winning me over however, was its very standard animation, which pretty much looked like every other anime film around (wow, am I gonna hear from anime fans or what?!?), its tendency to overpopulate its story with too many characters and its lengthy runtime, which at a little over two hours, felt more like three to me. I'm not sure if that had so much to do with the pacing of the film, which I didn't think was so bad, as much as the fact that I wasn't expecting to sit around so long for an animated picture (which generally last somewhere between 80-90 minutes). There were also a number of hurdles which the little girl had to overcome which started to feel a little redundant after a while. The picture does have a huge heart at its epicenter though, especially in its lead character Chihiro, who was consistently sweet, gracious and thoughtful to those around her. Ultimately, she does surmount many weird adventures though (and I'm understating the word "weird"), learns the lesson of love and for the most part, had me straddling by her side. In fact, when I finally walked out of the movie theater, it almost felt like I had just returned from another world...which I assume is much of this film's purpose. The score was also quite enchanting and in keeping with Disney's other triumphant animated features.
One thing to note is that this is not a typical kid's movie, in fact, I'm not sure if the younger ones are gonna appreciate it as much as certain adult anime fans, even though the film does flaunt enough odd and quirky characters to give adults a run for their money. On the other hand, it also gets serious a lot of the time, and many of its richer themes of spirit, love and the dark side might not be fully grasped by the kidlets, despite Chihiro's admirable resilience throughout. The film also doesn't feature any disposable "side-kick" characters like most American animated flicks (gotta sell those Happy Meals!), but does ultimately stick a couple of cuties into the mix: a fat mouse and a tiny bird. And while the movie didn't particularly make me laugh much (it's not a comedy anyway), those two creatures did integrate some lighter moments. I only wish they had trimmed the film by a good 20-30 minutes though, especially some of the stuff with the "monster spirit" which ultimately didn't bring enough to the story to merit its amount of screen time. The film's also loaded with symbolism, so it might be one of those babies that you'd want to see a few times in order to truly "get" it all. For me, once was enough and being as I'm not necessarily a major "anime" fan to begin with, I can say that I was entertained by it all, but certainly not blown away like many others seem to be. But check it out for yourself if the story or trailer appeal to you, because it certainly is an epic film of very bizarre proportions. Kinda like a Japanese acid trip, but without the drugs...
(c) 2017 Berge Garabedian