Sunday, September 11, 2005

Film Review: Kiki's Delivery Service

Starring the voices of Kirsten Dunst, Phil Hartmann
Studio Ghibli
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki

I feel old. I'm only thirty, but even typing that qualifier makes me feel five years older. It doesn't help that my nephew has recently left the nest. And while my sister may be toasting her freedom with Champagne and Toblerones, I'm still just young enough to remember what it was like to leave this two-bit burg, myself. And frankly, I'm seething with jealousy at the thought that I won't get to leave home for the first time ever again.

("Don't you believe it," echoes the voice of my mother, whose optimistic Post-It notes yet call for the mysterious and as-yet-undefined "RENT")

It's a scary thing to be out on your own for the first time, and few things have captured that feeling of flying without a safety net as well as Kiki's Delivery Service. The film follows the adventures of a teenage witch as she moves to a new town, in order to train on her own for a year. Kiki, and her feline familiar Gigi, find it hard to blend in with the townsfolk, at least to begin with, but as soon as her broomstick-based delivery service...takes off (sorry), the trainee trickster starts to come out of her shell. A bout of 'flu and a lack of self-confidence threaten to rob Kiki of her powers (and her cat), but when push comes to shove, can she pull it together long enough to save her new home from disaster?

Well, of course she can. But this movie isn't about the Big Crash-Bang Finale. It's about the journey.

Kiki's Delivery Service fizzes along with the same mixture of excitement and nausea that I felt when I first moved away from home. The anticipation of breathing different air, meeting new people and learning new things, was always accompanied by the fear of failure, rejection, and embarrassment. I'm not sure you can truly enjoy the former without the latter.

Kiki's Delivery Service is a beautiful film. The animation and backgrounds are superb. Kiki's world has a continental European flavour - mostly French - that sets it apart from most Studio Ghibli films (including the delightfully Welsh Laputa/Castle In The Sky). The changeable late summer weather will be familiar to any Briton with access to a window. Kiki's eager, outgoing nature - as well as her endearing clumsiness and eventual confidence - is stamped on every frame. Kirsten Dunst's voice is perfect for the plucky little thing.

The supporting cast, from the TinTin-ish Tombo to the uncomfortably gravid Osono, are a jolly bunch in their own right. In that respect, Kiki's Delivery Service isn't as morally complex as, say, Princess Mononoke, but it's no worse off for the more upbeat tone.

Few films have the ability to pull off the joie de vivre that permeates Kiki's Delivery Service without also peppering the thing with saccharine montages set to bloody Coldplay. Kiki's accentuates the positive wherever it goes, perfectly capturing what it means to be young, free, and utterly terrified of the big wide scary world.

And while I can't help envying my nephew's new-found freedom, by watching this film, I can at least be reminded what is was like to step outside my comfort zone for the first time...but without the student loans.

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