Kiki's Delivery Service (1989)

Genres - Children's/Family, Adventure, Fantasy  |   Sub-Genres - Family-Oriented Adventure, Children's Fantasy, Anime  |   Release Date - Jan 1, 1998 (USA)  |   Run Time - 100 min.  |   Countries - Japan   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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A coming-of-age story with a unique international perspective, Kiki's Delivery Service is one of auteur animator Hayao Miyazaki's many family films with an almost-universal appeal. The story of 13-year-old witch Kiki leaving home to live on her own is one that reflects the basic human experience of growing up. While she fumbles with the logistics of being a witch, Kiki struggles with independent living skills and ponders some existential questions, posed so that a kid can relate to them. Perhaps appreciated by an audience older than the set for Miyazaki's delightful My Neighbor Totoro but not old enough for his epic Princess Mononoke, this film approaches the adolescent teenage girl years with an honest, intelligent grace. Without seeming heavy-handed, Kiki is helped on her journey by several women role models, notably Madame (voice of Debbie Reynolds), a pregnant baker who assists her in practical matters, and Ursula (voice of Janeane Garofalo), a friendly painter who is a springboard for her philosophical uncertainties. The city Kiki lands in is magical itself; though the characters are drawn in a typical Japanese anime style, the setting is not anchored in any particular time or place, with a mixture of European architecture and pop-culture references from several different decades. Keeping the pace fairly quick are the humorous bits from Kiki's black cat companion, Jiji (voice of Phil Hartman, in one of his last films), and the daring rescue scene where Kiki gets to save the day -- and the boy. Seemingly more accessible to a Western audience because of the setting, this adventure story manages to address life issues that adults still struggle with, while packing in enough action to keep an average kid entertained.