Editor’s Notes: Spirited Away and The Cat Returns are all out on their respective formats June 16th.
Spirited Away (Disney), directed by Hayao Miyazaki (Princess Mononoke), is a Japanese animated film about a young girl, Chihiro, who takes an unusual adventure. Chihiro and her parents are moving, but her father takes a wrong turn and wind up in what appears to be an abandoned theme park. Chihiro decides to explore and soon is trapped in an odd palace inhabited by weird-looking creatures. Turns out the palace is the resting place of 80 million spirits and is overseen by tyrannical Yubaba.
Miyazaki’s animated films are characterized by a lush visual style, fanciful characters, and parallel worlds to out own. Using the basic theme of a stranger in a new and amazing world, the film is a sort of Alice In Wonderland presents one peculiar sight after another. It’s almost like going through a museum of animated oddities. Some of the creatures Chihiro encounters are downright creepy, and may be too frightening for very young children. But older kids and adults will be fascinated.
Bonus features on the Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack include an introduction by John Lasseter, footage of the English-speaking actors dubbing the movie, original Japanese storyboards, Nippon television special, and the featurette The Art of Spirited Away, which explores Hayao Miyazaki’s creative vision.
The Cat Returns
The Cat Returns (Disney) is a spin-off of the 1995 feature, Whisper of the Heart. A few characters from the earlier film appear in The Cat Returns, but the tone is far different. The Cat Returns contains a lot more action. A young girl, Haru (voice of Anne Hathaway), rescues a royal cat from a traffic accident and finds herself the recipient of the cat kingdom’s gratitude. Fearing she might be losing her mind, Haru enlists the aid of the Baron (Cary Elwes) and his helpers, a fat cat, Muta (Peter Boyle), and a magic crow, Toto (Elliott Gould).
Once again, Japan’s Studio Ghibli presents an animated film about an odd journey. During her stay in the cat kingdom, Haru encounters unusual, colorful characters, so we experience them through the eyes of the young girl, sharing her amazement and ongoing concern about how she will return home. If this sounds close in theme to The Wizard of Oz, you’re right. Haru’s adventure is wonderful most of the time, frightening on occasion, and always intriguing, but it’s Haru’s desire to get back to the world she knows that underscores the plot.
Bonus extras on the Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack include original Japanese storyboards, Original Japanese trailers and TV spots, making-of featurette, and a behind-the-scenes look at the actors dubbing the English dialogue.
For over 25 years, I was the Film and Home Entertainment Reviewer for "The Villadom TIMES," a New Jersey weekly newspaper, and have written for several other publications. I developed and taught a Film Studies program for two New York City high schools that included Film History, Horror/Fantasy, and Film Making.