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Spirited Away

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Spirited Away

Starring: Daveigh Chase, Suzanne Pleshette
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Rated: PG
RunTime: 124 Minutes
Release Date: September 2002
Genres: Animation, Kids

*Also starring: Michael Chiklis, Susan Egan, David Ogden Stiers, John Ratzenberger, Jason Marsden, Lauren Holly

Review by Steve Rhodes
4 stars out of 4

SPIRITED AWAY (SEN TO CHIHIRO NO KAMIKAKUSHI), the brilliant new motion picture by writer and director Hayao Miyazaki (PRINCESS MONONOKE, one of my all-time favorite films), is so richly textured that it's hard to know where to begin to describe it. An animated movie that broke all box offices records in Japan, it tells a timeless story for adults that kids will also enjoy. Blending equal measures of ALICE IN WONDERLAND and THE WIZARD OF OZ with just a bit of PRINCESS MONONOKE, the story is a feast for the mind and the eyes. It's a beautiful story that's complex yet reasonably easy to follow.

The movie starts rather like the Treasure Island part of PINOCCHIO. Chihiro (voiced by Daveigh Chase, Lilo in LILO & STITCH) and her parents (voiced by Lauren Holly and Michael Chiklis) come upon an abandoned amusement park. Although it's a colorful ghost town, the restaurants have huge plates of wonderful smelling hot food. Chihiro, an initially timid ten-year-old girl, refuses to eat, even though her parents, who are pigging out on the free food, urge her to enjoy it with them. One of the movie's many messages involves the consequences of gluttony. Suffice it to say that it's not pretty and that Chihiro endures the first of her many scary tests.

Haku (Jason Marsden), a mysterious boy with magical powers, comes to the aid of Chihiro before she can be turned into an animal by Yubaba (Suzanne Pleshette), the evil owner of the bathhouse in which Chihiro ends up working. Literally stealing Chihiro's name from her, Yubaba, a hideous figure who looks like an enormous stuffed witch, tells Chihiro that henceforth she will be known only as Sen. Chihiro's tasks then are to recoup her name, free her parents and find her way back home. (There's no place like home.) As best she can tell, no one has ever succeeded in leaving Yubaba's employment.

Along the way, our eyes are dazzled by an amazing cornucopia of fantastical characters and sights. From soot ball characters that eat colorful star-shaped food to triplet heads without bodies that bounce around like balls, the characters are all unique and incredible. One of the best of these is an aptly named stink spirit who arrives one day for a bath. How do you bathe a stink spirit who looks like a huge mound of walking sludge? Very carefully. When animators go to animator heaven, they will probably view drawings of the caliber of those in SPIRITED AWAY.

As the story unfolds, Chihiro stays vulnerable but gets braver and more persistent. An endearing female heroine, she has a mission that she means to accomplish. The story, which is frequently quite funny and cute, is mainly serious and mesmerizing. Expect to stay glued to your seat as the movie makes two hours fly by. Will it do the box office it did in Japan? Probably not. Should it? Absolutely.

SPIRITED AWAY runs 2:04. It is rated PG for "some scary moments" and would be acceptable for kids around 8 and up.

My son Jeffrey, age 13, went wild over the movie, giving it ****. Heaping praise upon praise, he talked about how imaginative, creative and original it was. He loved the drawings, the characters, the story and everything about it.

Copyright 2002 Steve Rhodes

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