I used to believe that Anime was nothing but sex and violence -- stuff for grown-ups only. However, I take it back. And I owe it to this cute little gem called KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE that really turned me around for the better. It introduced me to arguably one of the greatest animators of all time, Hayao Miyazaki, who happens to be dubbed as the Walt Disney of Japan. Having since seen virtually ALL of his films, from THE CASTLE OF CAGLIOSTRO to SPIRITED AWAY (and eagerly awaiting HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE), I can see why he is such a highly acclaimed artist -- his works (and I mean every one of them) are a stroke of genius.
KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE may have been my first real exposure to Miyazaki, but this happens to be the director's fifth film, which was the highest grossing movie of its year in Japan. Adapted from a children's book by Eiko Kadono (recently released in America), the film is not a typical good-versus-evil conflicted, dysfunctional story but a gentle, character-driven story with endearing characters, beautiful artistry, and a strong, positive message about confidence and independence that are quite encouraging for all, from the youngest of children to the oldest at heart. (On a side note, it persuaded me to get some exercise! The "fat, fat, FAT!!!" line did it for me.) The story is about 13-year old Kiki, an adorable witch-in-training, who, on one moonlit night, leaves her hometown to seek her independence and fortune. She's accompanied by her wisecracking and hilarious pet black cat, Jiji, and a little wobbly when it comes to takeoffs and landings while maneuvering her broomstick. Kiki arrives at a luxurious town with an ocean view where she eventually finds work at a bakery run by the generous Osono and her silent, gruff husband. There, she starts a high-flying delivery service which opens up many new relationships for the budding witch -- including a friendly painter, Ursula, a kind old woman, Madame, and a boy named Tombo, who dreams of flying.
The above synopsis may sound dull, but KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE certainly is not. It is a joy to watch from start to finish as we see Kiki slowly grow up and learn to have faith in herself, especially when her powers begin to fade away toward the end of the movie. It's engrossing enough to keep one's attention and there are a number of tear-jerking moments that make it more than just a movie. This is a characteristic you'll only be able to find in Miyazaki, and KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE "delivers" a wonderful movie which shows that movies don't have to be about overcoming evil or action-packed or angst-ridden to be entertaining.
The movie was originally dubbed into English by Carl Macek of Streamline Pictures. I have not seen that version, but this Disney dub features an all-star cast who do a truly excellent job with their roles. Thirteen-year-old Kirsten Dunst is perfect as Kiki, eliciting just the right touch of cuteness, spunkiness, independence, and poignancy to her role. The other actors, which include Debbie Reynolds (Madame), Tress MacNeille - of Tiny Toons and Animaniacs fame - (Osono), Jeanane Garofolo (Ursula), and Matthew Lawrence (Tombo), give similarly superb performances. Of the actors, however, it is the late Phil Hartman's witty, sarcastic take on Jiji that steals the show. I understand that some folks were offended at Hartman's performance and added-in lines, but if you have no such issues, then this is only extra icing on the cake -- especially when he does it so well. I swear, I just cannot get enough laughs every time I hear his lines. "First, don't panic! Second, don't panic! And third, did I mention not to panic?!?" The opening and ending songs were replaced by two gorgeous, rollicking numbers from Sydney Forest, but even they seem to suit the story wonderfully. In fact, I find myself bouncing to them every time they pop up over the opening and closing credits of the show. For you purists, the Japanese language track features the original songs (though there is a continuous debate about the subtitles being inaccurate, that's a very minor complaint) and credit presentation.
All in all, KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE is a gem that should not be missed and deserves to be well-known in America as it is in Japan. I highly -- and I do mean VERY HIGHLY -- recommend it.
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