animefringe july 2003 / reviews

Kiki's Delivery Service
Format: bilingual DVD, 105 min.
Production: Studio Ghibli / Disney / Hayao Miyazaki
Comments: Ghibli's magical witch takes off on DVD.
Animefringe Reviews:
Kiki's Delivery Service

Of Studio Ghibli's illustrious canon, Kiki's Delivery Service is one of my favorite films. The charming story of a young witch struggling with her newfound independence is one of Hayao Miyazaki's sweetest movies. Of the Studio Ghibli films released by Disney in the U.S. (the other two being Castle in the Sky and Spirited Away, released at the same time as Kiki) the DVD release of this film is the best, though it is still plagued by some of the problems as other Disney/Ghibli releases.

The film opens with Kiki, a thirteen-year-old witch, deciding that the time is right for her to strike out on her own. The witches' tradition dictates that thirteen-year-old witches have to find a town without witches to train in, away from their family. Kiki bids adieu to her family and sets off with her black cat Jiji, to find a place to call her own. Eventually she finds a town next to the ocean. Throughout the rest of the film, Kiki learns to trust in her own abilities as she sets up a delivery service.

There aren't monsters to fight, bad guys to outrun, or anything of that sort. In that respect, the film resembles Spirited Away, but Kiki's Delivery Service is even more bereft of external conflict. The film is exciting and features an exhilarating ending, but the most important conflict of the movie is within Kiki herself. Unlike Spirited Away, Kiki set in a more "normal" European background. While, for a Western audience, Sen's adventures in a Japanese bathhouse were visually very different, Kiki's town is much less different (but no less interesting).

Most young children, raised on frenetic Saturday morning cartoons, will find Kiki slow and boring because of that lack of external conflict. Though Kiki's Delivery Service is marketed as a children's movie, it is not. Most of the Studio Ghibli movies marketed as children's films are really films for adults looking back longingly at childhood. While Kiki's Delivery Service is filled with action and suspense (I didn't find one moment in the film boring or slow), it's not the type of action that children today are accustomed to. An interesting parallel can be made with another literary magician, Harry Potter. While Potter has monsters to battle, in the original book by Eiko Kadono, Kiki has no conflicts - the book is made up of episodic visits with people. Miyazaki added the conflict to the film (which upset Kadono), but the film is still light by Western standards.

The animation is extremely good for such an old film - was originally released in 1989. As Studio Ghibli has proven with its older titles, effort put into a film's visual quality when it is released can help carry the film as it ages. The animation is only a little less fluid than more recent Ghibli films and the colors a slightly less vibrant. The music itself, done by Joe Hisashi, who composed all of Ghibli's scores, is classic, but this soundtrack has a much more European sound, in line with the film's setting. Kiki's Delivery Service also features two excellent theme songs, "Message in Rouge" and "If I've Been Enveloped by Tenderness," both sung by Yumi Matsutoya.

As I mentioned above, Disney's release of Kiki's Delivery Service is slightly better than the other two Ghibli films released by Disney stateside. Unlike Castle in the Sky and Spirited Away, Kiki doesn't feature any major spelling or grammatical errors (that I noticed, anyway), though there are several lines left unsubbed towards the end of the film. As with Castle in the Sky, such shoddiness is not warranted with films of this caliber. I doubt Disney would let tripe like The Emperor's New Groove or Pocahontas out the door in the condition it released the Ghibli films. Additionally, the subtitles (which are apparently different from the dubtitles, the subtitles for the English dub) made some questionable word choices in the film.

Like the other films, the DVD release of Kiki has "commercials" for the other two films before the DVD loads the start up menu. Though they can be bypassed, I hardly think Disney needs to cross-promote their products. After the menu loads and one starts to play the movie, the film is prefaced by a small introduction by John Lasseter, of Pixar Animation. The implication seems to be that for a Western audience, Hayao Miyazaki has to be legitimized by Pixar. The introduction is just Lasseter for speaking for a moment about Miyazaki and the film. It's long enough to be damn annoying (as it precedes the movie every time you play) but too short to really be an extra.

My other major beef with this DVD release is the awful proprietary DVD software the disc tries to load on one's computer if it is played on a DVD-ROM drive. The disc basically tries to strong arm poorly written Disney DVD software onto the machine. The software crashed every time I attempted to play Spirited Away on it and I hardly see the need for Disney (or any DVD company) to force me to install their software.

The dub for Kiki's Delivery Service is among the best in anime. While I don't hold much stock in English dubs for anime, Kiki's is not as ear-scratchingly bad as Castle in the Sky or Spirited Away. It features Kirsten Dunst as Kiki, the late Phil Hartman as Jiji, and Janeane Garafolo as Ursula. Of course, the original Japanese language track is much better.

The DVD has a definite lack of extras. Disney's release of Kiki features two discs. On the first disc, with the film, are short interviews with the dub cast (the value of which I completely fail to see) and the Japanese trailers. The second disc features the film's audio, in Japanese and English, along with the storyboards for the film (again an "extra" of questionable value). There is nothing as interesting as the look inside Ghibli on the Spirited Away disc on the Kiki discs.

Kiki's Delivery Service is a great film and every fan of Ghibli or film in general should have it in their collection. Disney's DVD releases are not the best, but for the most part Kiki's Delivery Service is not distractingly bad.