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With: (voices) Kirsten Dunst, Phil Hartman, Matthew Lawrence, Janeane Garofalo, Debbie Reynolds
Written by: Hayao Miyazaki, based on a story by Eiko Kadono
Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki
MPAA Rating: G
Language: English/Japanese with English subtitles
Running Time: 105
Date: 29/07/1989

Kiki's Delivery Service (1989)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Miyazaki's Witch Project

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Buy Kiki's Delivery Service on DVD

Disney subsidiary Buena Vista recently bought the rights to the Japanese animated classic Kiki's Delivery Service (1989) and added dubbing by American stars, including Kirsten Dunst, the late Phil Hartman, Janeane Garofalo and Debbie Reynolds. The dubbing is just about the best I've ever seen, and is easily a match for the subtitled version. Either way, it's one of the very best animated films ever made.

In Kiki's Delivery Service, a young witch named Kiki (Dunst) goes out on her own at age 13 to complete her witch training. Armed with her broom and her talking cat Jiji (Hartman), she winds up making deliveries for a small bakery. Things culminate in an amazingly rendered blimp accident in which Kiki must save the day. It's nice to see a reasonable, intelligent story from a female point of view for once.

The movie is written, directed, and produced by Hayao Miyazaki (My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke), and, unlike Disney's latest efforts, it's completely hand-drawn. Miyazaki (who is often called "the Walt Disney of Japan") has a wonderful eye for scenery and colors. His imagination, gentleness, and artistry are masterful. I've been told that many American animators, including John Lasseter (Toy Story), will watch Miyazaki movies when they get stuck in their own work.

I salute Disney for releasing two versions of the Kiki VHS tape; one letterboxed with Japanese subtitles, and the other the new dubbed version. My one complaint is that the dubbed version is also panned-and-scanned, which is a bit of an insult. I can only hope that a DVD version will soon be released with all different possibilities on one disc.

I was completely charmed by this so-called "family" movie. Most kids movies are insulting and formulaic, and I have to think back to the two Babe movies (1995 and 98), or even Disney's Dumbo (1941), to remember the last time I was so moved. As with all great kids movies, parents will have a wonderful time, too.

DVD Details: Thank goodness for Pixar's John Lasseter, who helped midwife three Miyazaki classics (Castle in the Sky, Kiki's Delivery Service and Spirited Away) to Disney DVDs in 2003. Each comes in a two-disc set with loads of extras, and each comes with letterbox and subtitle options. Even better, the dubbing on all three was written and supervised by top Disney people, including Kirk Wise (Beauty and the Beast) and SF resident Jack Fletcher, and features top voice talents like Kirsten Dunst and Anna Paquin. Lasseter provides video introductions to all three movies, and he usually says something like "You're so lucky! You're about to watch..."

Kiki's Delivery Service (1989, Disney, $29.99) may be my personal favorite of the Miyazakis; it's low-key but epic at the same time. As part of her rite of passage, thirteen year-old witch Kiki (voiced by Kirsten Dunst) and her cat Jiji (voiced by the late Phil Hartman) must find a witch-less city in which to live and work. She lands a job delivering fresh-baked goods for a local bakery. (Debbie Reynolds provides the voice of the kindly proprietor.) Kiki must save the day after a huge dirigible accident that, once again, manages to convey an astonishing sense of scale. This time, though, Miyazaki has learned how to revel in the quieter scenes; he uses silences with great effect and understands the movements of the wind and the trees. Everything feels organic and three-dimensional, and it almost feels as if we're hitching a ride on Kiki's broom.

Note: In 2010, Disney re-issued the out-of-print DVD with a new interactive extra: "The World of Ghibli," and a "collectible litho."

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