When was the last time you really cared about a Disney picture? How about when you were older than thirteen? I thought so. That means you have to go see Spirited Away given half a chance - it's the best thing I've seen all year. Japanese maestro Hayao Miyazaki's new film has just enraptured me so completely that watching it felt like reliving a dream; the two hours certainly passed as quickly as they would during dream-filled sleep. I've always loved Miyazaki's work in the past, but I didn't expect to be so thoroughly caught up in this film.
Released in Japan over a year ago, it's received accolades including the Japanese award for Best Picture. (Does that really mean anything? In this case it does.) The story involves a young girl transplanted to a Japanese version of Wonderland populated by characters who seem loosely based on Japanese mythology. (An early scene involves what I've discovered is a God of Daikon Radish.) It's a coming-of-age tale (as are many of Miyazaki's films) and as Chihiro goes about returning home, you may be reminded of Amelie as Chihiro's generous nature speeds her return. As with the rest of Studio Ghibli's films, it's been acquired by Disney for release in the US and other non-asian markets and has been dubbed by an American cast, as was the case with the 1999 US release of Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke, handled by Disney-owned Miramax. I didn't see the dub, instead watching the film via import DVD. I'm very much looking forward to catching this in the theater.
Disney's distribution of Spirited Away represents a wonderful irony. The film is everything that Disney animation isn't, and in my opinion has never been. While thousands revere Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs, Fantasia and Pinocchio as benchmark-setting classics, those films have never held any sway for me. Sure, I didn't grow up with them, but even when put into context they don't work for me. Of course, the best Disney films of late have been those produced by Pixar, so it's fortunate that Pixar's Executive Creative Vice President, John Lasseter, is overseeing the Mouse's handling of Miyazaki's work. But while recent Disney output (since their animation revival at the hands of The Little Mermaid in 1989) has occasionally been entertaining, it's never even approached sublime.