Despite the classical nature of Ghibli and Miyazaki’s films it is odd how the only adaptation up to this point was of Miyazaki’s own work. However that changes after this point and lends more credence to the Ghibli as Disney comparison (I bet they feel bad letting that license slip now that Disney+ is around. That would have been a killing for them). Disney usually stays to well worn fairy tales while Ghibli likes to branch out into newer tales.
Kiki’s Delivery Service, based on the novel of the same name by Eiko Kadono, follows burgeoning witch Kiki as she goes out on the rite of passage for every witch at her age. She must leave home and make a place for herself among a new town and find out who she is. Kiki finds herself in a port city where she uses her singular talent of flying to make a name for herself as a delivery girl. She is a teenager, so of course the winds of passion can change and she must find a way to make those passions her own with her powers and friends she makes along the way.
The movie has a problem. Not the base film but movie posted to HBO Max. I am unsure of this problem persisted in the original 90s Disney release or there was a change made in the transition to streaming, but the vocal mixing on Kiki in particular, but everyone at certain points, is terrible. Her voice is often incredibly tinny or like her voice is coming from a blown out speaker (having since watched the next set of movies on the same system with the same settings and this problem never repeating it is definitely something wrong with this movie). What’s worse is how it happens to everyone at certain moments, and it only seems to affect the voices and no other sound effects. This made it a harder film to watch than intended because literally hearing the characters speak was testing. It’s an unfair thing to criticize a movie on, but it was still part of the experience and must be taken into consideration.
Outside of that (far, far outside) the film is incredibly cozy. Watching Kiki make her deliveries and deal with the residents of the town is just nice. It has the feel of a kids TV show that could go on forever. It means the pacing on the whole is not as good. It takes too long for Kiki to really make her way and for the movie to really show what it is about. However just seeing Kiki being nice to people as she works and watching that kindness come back to her (hypothetically. Her voice is grating to listen to because of the aforementioned mixing problems, but I get the intent)
The animation even reflects that TV feel. It feels even more restrained this time around with more focus spent on the mechanics of her flying and what that would realistically look like. That’s not to say there aren’t little touches thrown in. It’s a Miyazaki movie so of course there are. But on the whole it feels more like it wants to be a long running series over a splashy movie.
The advantage to it being a movie is it’s more individual focus on the idea of growing up. This is a consummate coming of age story, but what sets it apart is what it’s all about. At first glance it seems to be about trying to maintain old traditions in an evolving world. It is about that to a certain extent. The struggle Kiki finds when she first arrives seems to be in contrast to what her mom went through. Meanwhile scenes like using the old school oven in place of an electric one to bake a pie shows how not all old things need to be discarded. However it comes into focus that it’s about Kiki finding her passion and what she wants to do in life, and be accepted for it. Having to deal with burnout as well is an interesting choice, and provides a neat way to rethink it. But I don’t think it’s handled nearly as well as it thinks it is. That comes mostly from the lack of conveying why she doesn’t feel accepted. I mean I understand it being a completely internal struggle for her, but that struggle is not given an external example (some would argue her losing her powers is that example, but that’s the consequence not the inciting reason). Everyone she meets likes her and thanks her and even still she feels exiled from everyone. That’s a fine feeling but never shown in a way to understand it from her perspective. But her inherent drive to help and friendly nature does come through in why she is accepted and finds her place. It just could be conveyed better.
This is a film I want to watch again. Not just so I can see if that vocal issue persists in other copies of the movie but because it’s just kind of a nice world to live in. If it were a series I could see it still going to this day, and totally see why it was one of the highest grossing movies in Japan. It’s charming, cozy, sweet, and has a good character guiding us along the way. Her arc could have just been conveyed better.
1. Nausicaa: The Valley of the Wind
2. Castle in the Sky
3. Kiki’s Delivery Serivce
4. My Neighbor Totoro
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