Spirited Away

Studio: GKIDS

Oct 23, 2017 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


When a film opens with your young heroine wandering into an abandoned, haunted amusement park and watching in horror as her parents are turned into pigs and whipped by monsters, you know you aren’t watching your typical kids’ movie. Spirited Away – Academy Award winner for Best Animated Feature – is Hayao Miyazaki’s most wildly imaginative film, and a masterpiece of modern animation.

Finding herself trapped in a scary spirit world, ten-year-old Chihiro secures a job as a housekeeper in a mystical bathhouse. As she searches for a cure for her parents, she’s helped along the way by Haku, a young boy who at night turns into a dragon and does the bidding of an evil witch. The spa’s clientele are strange-looking spirits of infinite variety, and its employees range from squat toad-people to tiny soot-gremlins, to an eight-armed, spider-like old man who works the bathhouse’s boiler.

Spirited Away falls into that fantasy tradition of stories where young girls find their ways out of illogical, magical worlds; in that respect, it’s similar to Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, or even Labyrinth. Its segments are similarly episodic: Chihiro meets a magical creature, a problem is presented, and she finds a way to solve it, which is in the mode of that sort of tale. Where Spirited Away stands out is in the true wondrousness of the setting and its inhabitants. From the amorphous No-Face monster to the rolling, grunting heads the witch keeps as her pet, the character design is superbly creative, and the execution – Studio Ghibli put $15 million into the film's production – probably remains the best-ever to date in computer-aided cell animation. Even the English dub is top notch, overseen by Pixar’s John Lasseter with a script localized to match the characters’ mouth movements.

Spirited Away doesn’t talk down to its young audience, or treat its viewers delicately. There are parts of the film that are genuinely frightening, and even a good deal of blood splatter that could shock parents who’ve been weaned on Disney features. It’s the lead character, though, who looks, acts, and talks like a real ten-year-old, who keeps the film child-appropriate. She maintains a brave face through her various challenges, and that bravery should carry over to all but the most timid viewers. But, a warning is merited here, and parental guidance duly suggested.

GKIDS’ new Blu-ray/DVD dual edition looks (and sounds) fantastic, and comes packed with a few nice behind-the-scenes features. Like the other Ghibli films we’ve reviewed recently, Spirited Away comes with high recommendation – especially to those with a particular admiration for animation as an art form. 




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