June 11, 2008
As an Oscar-nominated animated feature by a world renowed director and studio, everyone had high expectations for this movie.
STORY – I rather liked the basic premise for this movie; it’s very simple and reminiscent of a lot of traditional Asian children’s stories, not to mention My Neighbor Totoro, with the whole moving away thing. In addition to Chihiro’s task of saving her parents, the story very quickly expands to include an assortment of other strange characters, all with their issues and goals, and there are times when we are completely wrapped up in these secondary characters’ problems. This makes it almost seem like Spirited Away should have been a short anime series rather than a full-length film. The randomness of some of the side stories really disconnected from the main plot, and I felt like it was a bit too unfocused at times.
Still, all of the subplots were entertaining, and if you look at the movie as a story of friendship and growth as well, then I suppose they could all be considered relevant. It also adds an element of realism to the film, since it’s sometimes difficult to concentrate solely on one matter when there’s so much else going on. The scatteredness of everything is also rather typical of Miyazaki’s style, so most fans are probably used to it anyway. In the end, it’s really just a matter of personal preference in the way of storytelling.
CHARACTER – I’m not sure how much I actually sympathized with Chihiro. By now, if you’ve been reading any of my other reviews, you would know that I’m not a big fan of characters with spotless morals, and Chihiro is one of them. She always knows what the right thing to do is, is never greedy, and never does errs on the side of “darkness,” even for a little bit. This is especially evident in the No-Face incident. Being primarily a children’s movie, I can understand the need for a role model, but I also think it would be easier to relate to Chihiro if she made some mistakes.
The rest of the cast is a bit better with having varied principles. The ambiguity of Haku’s alliance was an interesting element that I enjoyed, though once again, it did irk me that Chihiro seemed unwaivering in her good judgment. Zeniiba and Yu-Baaba were rather generic as characters, but as a huge Alice in Wonderland fan, I did appreciate the references to the Duchess and her gigantic baby. The collection of creatures that came to follow Chihiro around were a little gimmicky, but they weren’t very important and were fun to watch, so I guess there really isn’t a point in critiquing that too much.
ARTSTYLE & ARTWORK – I don’t think I’ve ever been a big fan of how people are drawn in Miyazaki’s style, but it’s bothered me the most in Spirited Away. Chihiro looks like a monkey to me. I can’t un-see it! That’s just me though, I know. The rest of the art is, as usual, gorgeous. All of the bath house guests, the creatures that appeared now and again, all of the details in the wrinkles and warts of the old women — they were all great. And not to mention the detail in the environment! Every door and wall and floor and machine looked amazing, and if you paused the movie on a background, you could spend ten minutes just looking for and staring at all the little details that were included. It aways blows me away the kind of time and effort they spend on things that the audience only sees for about five seconds at a time. Just beautiful.
MUSIC – I wouldn’t consider Spirited Away one of Joe Hisaishi’s best scores, especially not compared to something like Princess Mononoke. Still, the tracks were always very fitting and appropriate, fun when need be, suspenseful when need be, as should be expected of any soundtrack.
VOICE ACTING – I’ve seen both the sub and dub. Stick with the former. Chihiro’s English voice just irritated the hell out of me, and while admittedly, her Japanese original isn’t all that much better, it’s somehow easier to bear. Haku’s English voice also could have been much better, and I really wasn’t impressed with how most of his lines were delivered. Zeniiba and Yu-Baaba had pretty nice English voices, but I think it’s a lot easier to cast for older characters since there isn’t as much variation to their voices. The Japanese performance isn’t outrageously amazing by any means, but it’s at least better than the dub.
OVERALL – I liked Spirited Away. Though the pacing wasn’t that great and some parts dragged on for much longer than they should have, as long as you’re watching it with friends, it remains an entertaining film with lots of visual grandeur. And maybe if you emptied your head a bit and tried to think like a kid, you’d enjoy it just a little more, rather than being a grouchy, old critic like me. D;