NetFlix Review #5: Kiki's Delivery Service

This one will probably be a little less controversial than the last entry, but it's also a little weaker a review. I apologize. They can't all be winners.

Growing up as the son of a minister who also happened to be addicted to films and television, I was privy to a lot of conversations about why it was that there were no nice movies around where no one died and no one was in any real danger and people were just nice to each other, but could the movie also not be super-dopey pandering drivel. Well, here's the answer to that conversation: Kiki's Delivery Service.

The film is about a young witch named Kiki who turns 13 and must, according to witch code, go far away from home and learn how to survive on her own. So off she goes on her broom with her snarky black cat familiar, in search of new adventures. She proceeds to get a job, meet a boy, befriend an artist and enjoy all kinds of wacky shenanigans. Within all the adventures lies a message about finding your calling, being true to yourself and, oddly, a bit of a parable on writer's block.

The whole movie is about as light as the air the titular witch rides her broom through. All the characters are funny and likeable outside of the occasional cranky sidecharacter. Most of the drama in the script comes from Kiki imposing somewhat nonsensical rules on herself and from that most horrific of film villians, raindrops. I worry that perhaps I've been spoiled by Hayao Miyazaki's later works and am asking too much of his earlier fare. I remember watching Princess Mononoke in college and not being terribly impressed. However, Emily adores and owns Spirited Away, and one day had it on, so I sat down to watch it and completely fell in love with it. I later bought Emily Howl's Moving Castle for her birthday, and thought that one was absolutely brilliant as well. So when we got NetFlix, some old Miyazaki was on of the first things to go up on the list. The movie is certainly entertaining. The animation, as per usual with a Miyazaki film, is beautiful. The movie moves at a quick clip, the characters are charming, the American voice acting, including the late, great Phil Hartman, are all a lot of fun. It's just that there's not that much meat to the story. There are some set-ups that could go somewhere, such as Kiki's occasional moodiness, her love interest's geekiness, the two strange old ladies who patron Kiki. All of these characters seem to offer up possible interesting avenues to take a story down, but any real drama gets washed right over. It keeps such an airy, easy tone that it's frankly a little difficult to write about.

I understand the appeal, though. If I had a kid, this would be a fun movie to just plonk down and watch with them on a rainy day. The movie is a good deal of fun, and I'll be there are plenty of little girls out there who watch the movie and then ride around the house on broomsticks and talk to their cats and think about opening up a delivery service of their own. As much as the film coasts along pretty easily, it also never panders and never talks down. The movie certainly isn't a waste of time, and would definitely be better than, say, the new live action Alvin and the Chipmunks or the twentieth Land Before Time sequel, but it's hard to get too excited about it when you've got masterworks like Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle that you could be watching.