family movie Kiki's Delivery Service (USA, 1998)
aka Majo no takkyubin (Japan, 1989)

Kiki's Delivery ServiceStarring the voices of Kirsten Dunst, Janeane Garofalo, Phil Hartman, Matthew Lawrence, Tress MacNeille, Edie McClurg, Debbie Reynolds
Written by Hayao Miyazaki, Jack Fletcher (U.S. version)
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki.

Kid Grade: A+
Mom Grade: A

Review by Jen Walker.

An open letter to parents from Jen Walker.

So, we're cruising down the new release aisle at the video store I manage, and I say to my 8-year-old daughter, Michele, "Okay, what movie should we watch for our first review?" I brace myself for the inevitable answer.

"Pokemon! Pokemon! Pokemon!" she exclaims, jumping up and down.

I sigh. "Michele," I say gently, "We don't need to review Pokemon. Every kid in the world has already seen all three hundred Pokemon videos. Let's get something that kids may not have seen yet."

She's disappointed, for about ten seconds, and then starts pointing out every kid movie we come across. None of them really spark my interest. Let's keep going, I tell her. Finally we get to the "K" section and suddenly I have the cover of Kiki's Delivery Service thrust toward my face. The first thing I notice about it is that it's been on the new-release shelf way too long. It's almost a year old. I almost tell her to put it back. But then I remember that a customer had once told me that it was really good.

"Kiki's Delivery Service it is," I announce.

"Yaaay!!!!" More jumping.

Back at home, the popcorn is popped (only partially scorched), the video is in the VCR, the stereo is turned up to amplify the movie, and the dog has been evicted from the sofa. We settle down, and as the beginning credits begin to roll, Michele announces, "I love this movie!"

"Wait a minute," I say, surprised, "When did you see it?"

"Dad got it for me, a long time ago."

Great. We were supposed to watch something that neither of us had seen yet. I guess if I had clued her in on that little fact, she might have picked something else. Oh well. I'm not driving all the way back to the video store.

We turn our attention toward the TV, and the first thing I notice is that all the names in the credits are Japanese, with the exception of the cast. I'm not a huge fan of Japanese animation in general. The overly loud and screechy dialogue in most Anime annoys me so much that I don't enjoy it. Oh well. This is the movie we're going to review.

Kiki is lying in a meadow, staring wistfully up to the sky. The background is drawn with rich texture and detail, and Kiki, by comparison, is a sharp contrast. She is comprised of big blocks of color - a solid purple dress, a glob of black hair topped by a bright red bow, and her face resembles that of Speed Racer. No surprises here. As the wind rustles the grass around her, it's accompanied by some of the most beautiful and quiet piano music I've ever heard. Kiki sighs and says something to herself, and to my delight, her words don't overpower that beautiful music. I could really get into this.

Kiki (voiced by Kirsten Dunst) is a 13-year-old witch in training. She must leave her home and family for one year, starting tonight with the full moon, to live on her own. Her parents are sad to see her go. Her mother, a witch herself, frets that Kiki is not ready, but she sends her on her way because "every witch leaves home at her age."

Her mom is right. Kiki is not ready. As evidenced by her hilarious departure on her broom, she possesses more enthusiasm than skill. Her black cat, Jiji (Phil Hartman) obviously does not share her enthusiasm as he drolly (but never sarcastically) voices his complaints. Both Michele and I love Jiji. Michele loves him because he's a talking cat. I love him because he isn't your typical wise-cracking animal sidekick. Kiki is looking for a town that doesn't already have a witch in residence, and finally, from above, she spots her dream home--a sparkling city floating on the sea.

As soon as they arrive, streaking down a city street to the surprise of slack-jawed gawkers, Kiki learns that life in the big city isn't exactly what she thought it would be. With the "help" of an angry traffic cop, she realizes that she is different, and not exactly welcomed by everybody. Frightened, and worried about finding a place to stay the night, Kiki is aloof when approached by a boy her age, Tombo (Matthew Lawrence), who tries to befriend her. She rebuffs him. Soon, she happens upon Osono (Tress MacNeille), a bakery proprietor who's so laden with pregnancy that she can't catch up to a customer who's left something behind in her shop. Kiki offers to return the item on her broom, quick as a flash. Osono is so impressed with Kiki that, not only does she give her a room above the bakery in which to live, she gives her a job.

And Kiki's Delivery Service is born.

This movie is breathtakingly beautiful. It's messages about responsibility, self-reliance and tolerance are made all the more powerful by their quiet, subtle delivery. Even though the movie was released (and re-voiced) by Disney for American audiences, it is not presented as one of their typical, blaring extravaganzas. There are no musical numbers. There are no wise-cracks. This is a drama--a delightful coming-of-age story that is presented with such reverence that it puts other children's movies to shame. It is proof that a movie doesn't have bash children over the head with its messages, or dazzle them into learning its lessons. The other characters that Kiki meets, including Ursula (Janeane Garofalo) and Madame (Debbie Reynolds), all teach her something new, not through speeches, but through natural, real human contact.

Michele gives this movie an 'A+,' and says that she'd recommend it to all her friends. Her favorite part of the movie is when Kiki helps the old woman out with some chores. That's no surprise to me, since she loves to help her teacher and school, and me at home. She also laughed at a gag, which referred to a certain popular Japanese icon, Hello Kitty. Little girls will adore this movie. It addresses so many issues that are important to them--fitting in being a big one. As Kiki learns to embrace the things about her that make her different from other kids, she no longer holds herself away from them as an outsider. That's a great message for all children.

I'm giving the movie an 'A,' without the '+,' simply because it won't appeal to everybody. Toddlers and pre-schoolers may not be able to sit still through a movie with such a quiet, languid pace. And pre-teen boys may not like it because it is, after all, a story about (eww!) a girl. Parents, however, will love Kiki's Delivery Service. I cried during this movie. It wasn't during a manipulative Simba's-dad-just-died type of moment, but rather during a moment of absolute stillness.

Review © October 1999 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
© Buena Vista Home Entertainment, Inc.

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