[box cover]

Kiki's Delivery Service

Americans whose exposure to Japanese animation has primarily been the likes of Pokemon, Dragonball Z and Sailor Moon (or, at the far extreme, hentai tentacle porn) may come to the conclusion that anime just isn't their cup of sake. Fair enough. But as a persuasive argument to the contrary, there could be no better evidence than Hayao Miyazaki's 1989's Kiki's Delivery Service — an accessible, funny, family-friendly film that would be an ideal starting point for anyone dipping their toes into anime for the first time. It's also a perfect example of why Miyazaki (Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke) is considered the world's greatest living animator. Set in an idealized Europe — with charming Old World buildings and 1950s motorcars, airplanes, and dirigibles — the film tells the story of 13-year-old witch Kiki (voiced in the U.S. version by Kirsten Dunst) as she follows tradition and leaves home for a year of witch training. With her black cat, Jiji (the late, great Phil Hartman), she flies on her broom to a big city, boards with a kindly couple who own a bakery, and attempts to earn a living by running a broom-based delivery service. It's a coming-of-age story, gently told — Kiki must learn to live in a world where she's treated as a curiosity because of her magic, she has to figure out how to take care of herself for the first time, and she experiences the glimmer of possible first love with Tombo (Matthew Lawrence), an aviation-obsessed local boy who takes a shine to her. When Kiki finds her witch's powers fading, she has to learn to believe in herself to get them back, and becomes a hero in the process when she summons her resources to save Tombo's life. All of this is told with a joyful, respectful attitude towards the characters, unlike typical big-screen American animation — there are no "bad guys" in Kiki's Delivery Service, no humor resulting from deliberate cruelty, and nothing that could scare younger viewers. It's also smart enough to entrance adults, never dumbing down the story for the lowest common denominator. Kiki is a clever, hard-working girl who gains from helping other people (a lesson we could all take to heart, no matter what our age), and much of the humor comes from her relationship with the sarcastic, fussy Jiji. Hartman, who expanded on the cat's dialogue through Miyazaki-approved improvisation, captures the prissy, supercilious nature of most cats perfectly — it's a marvelous performance and one of many reminders of what the world lost with his passing. Other voices are provided by Janeane Garofalo as an artist who befriends Kiki and Debbie Reynolds as an old woman who utilizes Kiki's services, plus American animation regulars Edie McClurg and Tress MacNeille. All of this is wrapped in Miyazaki's trademark animation style, with stunning backgrounds and attention to detail that take the breath away. Buena Vista's DVD presentation of Studio Ghibli's Kiki's Delivery Service is a nice, spare package, offering a beautiful, restored anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) that showcases every obsessive detail, and with colors so vibrant they pop off the screen. The English and Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 audio tracks are very clean, with music and ambient sounds never overwhelming dialogue. Disc One starts with a rather condescending introduction by Pixar's John Lasseter (of the, "I know all about this movie, and here's why I say you should watch it" variety). It's annoying, but mercifully short. The featurette "Behind the Microphone" (5 min.) is a commercial-length promo with soundbites from Dunst, Hartman, and Garofalo. The Japanese theatrical trailers are on this disc, too, offering a chance to see how Kiki was marketed abroad. Disc Two offers Miyazaki's complete storyboards — the entire 105 minutes of the film — with Japanese and English soundtracks in Dolby 2.0 Surround audio. Keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor

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