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Spirited Away

Starring Daveigh Chase, Suzanne Pleshette, Jason Marsden, Susan Egan, David Ogden Stiers, Lauren Holly, Michael Chikllis, John Ratzenberger, Tara Strong
Adaptation by Cindy Davis Hewitt and Donald H. Hewitt
Written and Directed by Hayao Miyazaki

IN SHORT: Another stunning film from Miyazaki, master of the modern 'toon. 'nuff said. [Rated PG for some scary moments. 125 minutes]

It's been three years since writer/director Hayao Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke came to American movie screens. We wrote then about the eventual coming of an animated film for grownups, and we meant it about Mononoke, a film that was both stunning to look at and heavy with symbolism that would scoot over the heads of single digit kidlets (whom the film was not intended for) and some adults. Neil Gaiman explained it all back then, and you can trace the link for that StarTalk. This year, Miyazaki aims his sights at ten year old girls and delivers a film that has all the wonder, magic, scares and thrills of the best Grimm's Fairy Tale, for all ages and sexes. There be witches and monsters and gods and girls, dragons and love and parents in danger in Spirited Away, not to mention some of the most lovely animation (traditional and CG) on either side of the Pacific.

We begin with an event viewed with dread by any kidlet -- the trauma of having to pack their bags and sleep in the back seat while mom and dad drive to a new home far away from the old. Dad (voiced by Michael Chikllis) has got his eye peeled for the new house. Mom (Lauren Holly) tries to cheer daughter Chihiro (Daveigh Chase) up, telling her to view the move as "an adventure"! Chirhiro will have none of it. When the destination is spotted, she grudgingly gets out of the car while her parents have a look.

It's the wrong house. The entrance leads to an abandoned city of some kind. Dad thinks it's an out-of-business amusement park ("they built a lot of them back in the '90's") but inside they find stalls filled to the brim with appetizing food. The parental units dig in like pigs and Chihiro wanders off to explore the mystery. She finds ghosts. She goes screaming for mommy. Mommy and daddy, just like their eating habits, have turned into big fat pigs. What's worse, Chihiro starts to turn invisible and fade from existence. Before that happens she is saved by the last minute appearance of Haku (Jason Marsden), who will guide and protect her in a new land on the other side of The River. There, he instructs her to ask the boilerman Kamaji (David Ogden Stiers), master of spiny round creatures that carry coal, for a job. He passes Chihiro off to the human-looking Lin (Susan Egan), who is supposed to take the girl to the uppermost levels of the highest tower, from where the witch Yubaba (Suzanne Pleshette) rules the Kingdom. There, she may find a way to restore and rescue her parents.

But first, she must sign away her name in order to get work. It's a vaguely described form of slavery -- Yubaba's apprentice Haku has been under contract for so long he cannot remember his true name. Without that, freedom is impossible.

And we haven't even gotten to the monster in black, who eats people and spits out gold; the dragon and the killer origami birds; Yubaba's son, a really, really big crybaby named Boh (Tara Strong) or Yubaba's even evil-ler twin sister Zeniva (also Pleshette) who can only be reached by a train ride from which there is no return.

Miyazaki blends so many levels of story into his two hours of showtime (much longer than your standard animated flick) that Chihiro's adventure in this Fairy-Land -- which is what this story ultimately is -- is about as grand as you can get. For this adaptation, we can thank the controlling hand of Pixar's John Lasseter, best known for the Toy Story movies. As with other releases of Miyazaki material, nothing has been cut for this American release, which is why that running time above is not in error (most American animated films run less than 90 minutes). Spirited Away is, perhaps, more audience friendly than Princess Mononoke. Both are worth your time.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Spirited Away, he would have paid . . .


Kidlet control: certain elements of the film scared the crap out of some of the two year olds in the audience we sat with. Other than that, there is enough material for both boys and girls that all should be happy. If your kids can sit for the two hours, and most in our audience did, Spirited Away is highly recommended.


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