Spirited Away (2001)

Genres - Fantasy, Children's/Family  |   Sub-Genres - Fantasy Adventure, Anime  |   Release Date - Sep 20, 2002 (USA - Limited), Mar 28, 2003 (USA - Rerelease)  |   Run Time - 125 min.  |   Countries - Japan  |   MPAA Rating - PG
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Review by Andrea LeVasseur

This fantasy adventure combines the magic of Alice in Wonderland and Wizard of Oz with a wildly imaginative critique of consumption in contemporary times. With Spirited Away, master animator Hayao Miyazaki unifies elements of his previous works: the youthful innocence of My Neighbor Totoro, the independence lessons of Kiki's Delivery Service, and the powerful grown-up forces of the spirit world from Princess Mononoke. Introducing a huge number of creatures, the spirit world Chihiro stumbles into is nothing short of amazing. Using sparse computer animation in his previous feature-length film, Miyazaki experiments with a lot of CGI software for this dizzying journey, which mostly takes place in fantastical spirit bathhouse. The effects are put to good use as characters hold powers that enable them to change form into beings like bats and dragons. Bizarre creatures overpopulate the film, with everything from tiny spider-like workers to giant radish spirits. Although sometimes resorting to gross-out humor, the tale is really the most traditional of fantasy adventure stories. The plucky Chihiro starts out as such an average spoiled 20th century youngster and develops into a self-confident hero. Not overly cute or smart, she is just a kid that has to learn to survive. Beyond this seemingly simplistic narrative are fully nuanced characters, rousing action, and a weird fantasy construction of capitalism that hits home at a very base level. Although not exactly a satire, greed figures into the narrative as a driving force that demands choices from the hero. The result is a memorable and captivating journey, marking a high point in the director's career as well as duly serving the underestimated population of people that Miyazaki frequently portrays: ten-year-old girls.