Actually rated G! Thank you, 1989! There was a time of reason. Okay, the movie is about a witch. There's nothing overtly occult going on here. It kind of feels like the rules of witchcraft in Kiki's Delivery Service is more along the lines of the X-Men with mutants. There are biological families of witches. Witchcraft isn't something that is chose, but it does have some kind of cultural significance. There's a really weird joke about Kiki being naked at one point, but it is shrugged off pretty quickly considering how awkward the joke actually is. Regardless, an actual G movie still exists.
DIRECTOR: Hayao Miyazaki
This might be unrelated to Kiki's Delivery Service directly, but I do love me some movies. I had an "appreciation of cinema" moment today. I was just very aware how much great film there was out there and that I could probably go the rest of my life and keep discovering great movies. That said, I've seen Kiki's Delivery Service before. This was not a discovery. This was a snow day and I have started researching / rewatching Studio Ghibli movies for the podcast. This might be the closest I've ever watched this one though. I've always kind of set this one in the weaker category of Miyazaki movies, so I always considered it a "background noise" movie. I might have written this one off too early.
Ever since I saw My Neighbor Totoro, I've kind of been in love with Miyazaki. At the video store, we had a Miyazaki shelf that was always pretty rented out. I know that there are full on Miyazaki nerds. I don't think I'll ever get there. But there was a time when my daughter was in the cult of Miyazaki. She quasi-outgrew it (She's now the ancient age of six), but I did save her Totoro Italian language one sheet for my classroom. She was really jazzed that I was up for starting a loose Ghibli marathon. The thing about Miyazaki that I'm going to get really repetitive over the next few reviews is that his movies really have heart. Some of them get absolutely terrifying. I don't know what it is about kids' movies that deem it necessary to scare the living daylights out of them, but Miyazaki is very talented at doing so. That's what makes me really happy about movies like Ponyo, My Neighbor Totoro, and Kiki's Delivery Service. These movies offer very little in terms of genuine scares. (I suppose that there are subjective scares in Ponyo and that Totoro hits on some heavy themes of mortality.) But Kiki's Delivery Service only offers the lightest scares. My very cowardly son (I will show him footage of the sheer terror he has over little things when he's older and he will back me up on calling him "cowardly") was mostly cool with the movie. He didn't like the crows. That's not too bad. I like that there are movies that are honest-to-Pete G-rated. I honestly love The Peanuts Movie. I don't know why there has to be infused terror. I also think that Miyazaki is at his best when he is making a movie that has no questionable content. Why? Because Miyazaki has so much heart and when there is nothing flashy to throw at the screen, he is forced to be remarkably vulnerable. I'm not accusing the other movies in his ouvre of not being vulnerable. Far from it. His movies step out farther onto ledges than most other movies, animated or otherwise. But his G-rated stuff is pure, unadulterated heart. The movie is constantly risking failure. I originally considered Kiki's Delivery Service to be one of the weaker movies in his canon. I don't know if I can completely take it back. I have some very interesting theories about what is happening in this movie for Miyazaki. But it doesn't exactly have the same flash as the other ones. (I know, I just complimented him about being vulnerable and how flash wasn't a good thing.) I don't know why, but Kiki's Delivery Service just seems cruder somehow. It is a very simply animated movie, which is bizarre because I associate Miyazaki with these amazing worlds. I mean, look at the Oregon tourism video. They did a Miyazaki knockoff implying that the guy understood bombastic fantasy worlds.
Why I think that Kiki's Delivery Service both functions perfectly and falls flat on its face at times is really complicated and I think I just broke it down for the first time today. Kiki is an odd character and there really isn't a plot. That's fine. I can live with a shoestring plot because most of Miyazaki's stuff is just world building and character development anyway. Since I can dismiss this part, I would like to address Kiki's personality first. I don't quite get it. I feel like I should write off some of Kiki's choices as "I've never been a thirteen year old girl so I don't get it." (I, also, have never been a witch, so there are two strikes against me.) She seems like her personality changes on a dime. She is so go-with-the-flow for most things in the movie, but if there is someone who could be considered her peer, she gets really closed off and spiteful. I get that there are characters her age in this movie who are absolutely terrible people and that we should view with a degree of scorn. Miyazaki didn't hide these characters. But any time adolescents show up in this movie, good natured or no, she goes into this insane defensive mode. It made it really odd because Kiki is clearly the protagonist and I don't feel like Miyazaki is writing this choice as an outright character flaw. I never found myself screaming at the screen wondering why Kiki is always so angry at others. Okay, I'm writing it off. It's not me. But there is a really cool idea that I missed in the movie that is Miyazaki possibly commenting on himself. If my idea is true, then the movie is brilliant, but oddly not as brilliant as it needs to be to carry this theme. BASIC PLOT SPOILERS: At one point in the movie, Kiki loses her abilities. She gets frustrated and has no idea what to do. She takes a vacation with a(n aggressive) friend who does a pretty good job psychoanalyzing her. (I say good job in the sense that Miyazaki is writing both the problem and the solution and that her advice probably wouldn't apply to most of us outside of the metaphor going on in the movie.) The friend suggests to stop trying so hard. Taking a break and trying again when the inspiration hits is far better than losing sleep over trying to be what you once were. Now, Kiki's Delivery Service is pretty early in the canon. But it is following My Neighbor Totoro and Castle in the Sky. I wonder if the whole film is a metaphor for Miyazaki not actually being able to live in his own shadow. Kiki's Delivery Service does feel very different than the other movies in his ouvre. Perhaps this is intention. He still has his mild obsession with aviation, but that's more of a matter of taste. The film is simpler in so many other ways. I wonder if he's making this movie as a means to shake off the cobwebs. He might be acknowledging that they all can't be Castle in the Sky and sometimes Kiki's Delivery Service just needs to get out. If so, that's kind of brilliant. If this is his sketchpad, he's still pretty brilliant. It's a very functional movie that never really aspires to be anything but what is seen on screen. It is just cute.
It's very sad to hear Phil Hartman as Jiji. It's a little thankless. I always find that American dubs of Japanese anime (from my limited experience) always come off a little blah. I don't know if the American voice directors don't have time to get nuanced performances while trying to make voices to pre-animated visual tracks, but I feel like most of Hartman's lines get rushed. I'm overthinking it and if I wasn't such a Hartman fan, I would probably ignore this. The thing about it is that Jiji is the only comic relief for this movie. I'm not saying the movie is dark or anything; anything but. But Jiji has some lines (outside of the weird "naked" line) that could really be something great. I know that Phil Hartman was quite a talented voice actor, so I feel like he either got no direction or had to sacrifice comic timing for functionality. The rest of the actors do a fine job. I suppose that Kirsten Dunst had less on the line because Kiki comes across just fine. There are weirdly a lot of impressive names given to some pretty thankless roles. I can't help but think of Amy Poelher and Will Arnett in Secret World of Arietty. I thought that all of these movies were coming out at times before big name talent was attached to animated films. Going even beyond that, many of these movies never saw wide release. What was Disney distribution doing attaching these big names to parts that would never really see the light of day? Regardless, I'd love to see a documentary (Okay, I wouldn't love it) interviewing all of the bigger celebrities who did the American dubs of all of these movies. I know, I should be authentic and watch the Japanese dubs, but I was watching with the kids. Besides, aren't you curious to hear how these big name voices do with very little direction? I'm over exaggerating this. Everyone does fine, but no one really stands out. I suppose that's what animation should be.
I'm actually really excited for this Ghibli binge. I have a stack of them that I've already seen but haven't really reviewed. I know I reviewed Spirited Away (or at least, I'm pretty sure I did). I hope to catch some new ones before we record. But Kiki's Delivery Service is a good start. It really is a nice entry point because I have now gleaned new genius moments in a movie that I had previously written off, but I also know that they will get better from here.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.