|Well Disney sure dropped the ball with this one. With a pathetic release of only 250 theaters in the United States, the head of Buena Vista Distributing should be slapped soundly on the face (this film originated in Japan and was bought by BV for U.S. distribution). Never mind that this film trumps any animated feature that has been produced in the last ten years (Disney or not), this film should have had the type of marketing campaign and air time that major Disney releases commonly enjoy. Disney's lackluster Summer 2002 effort, Lilo & Stitch shares no comparisons to this film, which is its superior in every way.|
It should be considered ironic that a Japanese "Anime" film should knock Disney from its exalted pedestal (though that pedestal has been getting shorter in recent years), since one of the first influences of the Anime movement forty years ago was the influx of Disney cartoons into Japanese theaters. Master director, Hayao Miyazaki has actually surpassed the excellence of his last feature, Mononoke Hime ("Princess Mononoke" in the United States), with the release of Spirited Away. Every single frame of the film is as visionary as an animated film could hope to appear.
And one doesn't have to be a rabid fan of Anime (this author is not) to enjoy this film. And loving animation isn't a requirement either. Spirited has engaging storytelling with the weight and substance of a live action film, and does it through quite realistic movements from its characters. Putting aside the truly beautiful look of the film, the motion of the characters looks to have been accomplished by some sort of motion capture technique. Even though the film isn't computer generated imagery, the expertise of the animators is evident through the movement of the main character, a ten-year-old girl named "Chihiro."
This film has a rather long running time for an animated film (over two hours), but honestly, those two hours pass within moments thanks to how creative the world of witches and monsters is. From tiny black spiky bowling ball creatures that follow Chihiro around in one scene to talking frogs and giant babies, every aspect of normal life is turned upside-down and sideways. Not only has Miyazaki created a deep and dramatic screenplay, he has also given the audience something beautiful and intriguing to look at as well. A perfect combination of style and substance, the film is an engaging experience on every level.
One of the best aspects of the story is the wide variety of characters that Chihiro meets while in the fantasy world. Very well captured is the boss witch who turns Chihiro's parents into pigs. She resembles a mixture of "Mommy Fortuna" from The Last Unicorn and Bridget Jones's mother. And other characters such as the talking frog, bouncing rat, and tiny fly would be best sellers at the Disney store in stuffed versions. But that probably won't happen, because the Disney company is determined to keep a chokehold on American animation, even as Fox and DreamWorks are chipping away at its hull.
Ending with characteristic sadness and melancholy, Spirited Away takes its viewers on a cinematic journey that will please regular viewers of Japanese Anime exports immensely, but will also easily garner a new fan base as well. No animated film (of primarily or entirely hand-drawn animation) has come close to being as wildly accessible to different types of audiences. While much Anime is geared toward an adult audience (involving sex and violence), and a lot of American animation is released with children the primary targeted demographic, somehow, this film is different. Perhaps it is the combination of the look and feel of the film. It is beautiful to look at, yet also possesses a multi-faceted story that is more complicated than "this is the bad guy, this is the good guy, see them face off and see the good guy win."
The production level in this film is so high that it would seem impossible for Miyazaki to top this effort. That the movie is appealing in its own genre, but also a satisfying experience for anyone should place the film as a benchmark for future Anime projects. The magnitude of the emotions expressed and the complexity of those emotions allows this film to tower not only over its animated rivals, but also those in the live action world as well. Spirited Away is an incredible animated film and is highly worth experiencing in the theater.
Review by Kelsey Wyatt.