During her family's move to the suburbs, a sullen 10-year-old girl wanders into a world ruled by gods, witches, and spirits, and where humans are changed into beasts.During her family's move to the suburbs, a sullen 10-year-old girl wanders into a world ruled by gods, witches, and spirits, and where humans are changed into beasts.During her family's move to the suburbs, a sullen 10-year-old girl wanders into a world ruled by gods, witches, and spirits, and where humans are changed into beasts.
No one would ever deny the visual splendor and wealth of imagination that have gone into the look of this film. The animators have created an entire world filled with inhabitants that defy description. Moreover, the elegance of the backgrounds and the fluidity of the movement provide some of the best work in those areas that animation has ever offered. One appreciates the effort, especially in this day and age when imagination in movies is at such a premium. Therefore, I feel like a bit of an ingrate pointing out that `Spirited Away' might actually have been a somewhat better film had the filmmakers opted for a little LESS imagination in favor of a little more discipline in the storytelling. The filmmakers are so busy trying to dazzle us with their creativity that we end up with more characters and subplots than the film can reasonably cope with. The story often feels arbitrary in nature, with events that seem unrelated to each other vying for our attention just so we can be impressed with how creative everyone is trying to be. The film seems to ramble for a good part of the time, and we find ourselves yearning for a tighter, more streamlined narrative to help keep us involved. In addition, there's a certain lack of logic that runs through most of the film, making us question why certain characters do what they do. For instance, why would a bunch of spirits be so concerned with eating, sleeping, making money, riding trains, etc.? The rules of this world don't seem to be laid down rigorously enough for us to understand what it's all supposed to be about.
I don't want to sound like a total curmudgeon in criticizing a film that, apparently, many people, including innumerable critics, have hailed as a masterpiece. And I do concede that `Spirited Away' has moments of great beauty and charm to more than compensate for its rather slow pacing and excessive length. A haunting trip on a ghostly train is, perhaps, the highlight of the film, a transcendent moment that hints at how great the rest of the film could have been had its makers not felt the need to pad out the story so consistently. Chihiro is a spunky, poignant and noble heroine, and a few of the other characters are compelling as well.
`Spirited Away' offers much for the audience to gape and marvel at, but it lacks the drama to make us really care.
- May 3, 2003