Spirited Away

Cartoons are just for kids right? WRONG. American cinema is in a vicious circle where studious continually release inferior animated movies that condescend towards children. Parents believe that since they are harmless (yet incredibly stupid) that their kids can safely watch them, thus prompting studios to make more dumb movies. Every once in a while, a good animated film comes along. But for every Toy Story 2 and Iron Giant there comes a Trumpet of the Swan or Hey Arnold!. Animation can be so much more. It has the ability to showcase things that live action cannot. In animated films, the only boundary is one's imagination. Here is where Hayao Miyazaki comes in. Miyazaki is (deservedly) revered as a god by many animators. He has an active and seemingly boundless imagination, dreaming up fantastic imagery and otherworldly creatures. Worldwide, Miyazaki is famous, but here, he is still a rising star. Kiki's Delivery Service was released direct-to-video, Princess Mononoke received art house distribution by Miramax, and now, Spirited Away receives a release under Walt Disney Pictures, the imprint usually reserved for Disney's best family fare.

Disney is not really taking a risk with this movie, since Spirited Away arrives with a tremendous amount of acclaim. In Japan, it beat the record set by Titanic for box office receipts. It won the Golden Bear Award (Best Picture) at the prestigious Berlin International Film Festival; it was the first animated film to do so. Watching Spirited Away is unbelievably exhilarating. There is so much going on here, so much more than in most other movies, animated or otherwise. Distilling it into a review almost seems a disservice. One of the great things about Spirited Away is the sense of freshness. At no time is it obvious where the story is going. It is a wholly original piece of work, which begins simply when a family loses its way on the way to their new home. They stop at what looks like an abandoned amusement park. Chihiro (voiced by Daveigh Chase, Lilo and Stitch, A.I.) wants to go, but her parents insist on eating some freshly cooked food that looks strangely out of place in an otherwise empty restaurant.

Things quickly take a turn for the worse as the sun sets and creatures begin entering the city. Her parents have fallen victim to some sort of spell, and Chihiro is turning into a ghost. A young boy named Haku (voiced by Jason Marsden, An Extremely Goofy Movie, The Lion King II: Simba's Pride) tells her to get a job from a man in a boiler room; it is the only way she can stay and rescue her parents. This is only the beginning of her adventures, as she takes a job in a bathhouse working for the witch Yubaba (voiced by Suzanne Pleschette, The Lion King II, A Twist of the Knife), who is also the one holding her parents captive. At every possible moment, she searches for a way save her parents while trying to navigate this alien world. Along the way, a bratty little girl changes into a young woman who knows the value of friendship, courage, and responsibility.

Also along the way she meets a wild assortment of some of the strangest creatures in recent memory. Large frogs, walking radishes and lamps, grunting heads, living dust, obese babies and living paper populate this magical world, all springing from Miyazaki's fertile imagination. Every scene seems to bring forth some vivid new creation, just a little scary for kids but equally as fascinating. Miyazaki friend John Lasseter (of Pixar, and an animation heavyweight in his own right) oversaw the English translation of Spirited Away. Cindy Davis Hewitt and Donald H. Hewitt meticulously translated the movie, making sure that Japanese cultural references made sense, and matching words to lip movements in the idiotic way that Americans dub movies. Unfortunately, a dubbed Spirited Away is the only way to get people to see this excellent movie, but just imagine if one could see it in its original form.

Mongoose Rates It: Really Good.
2 hours, 4 minutes, Rated PG for some scary moments.

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