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Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Release Date: July 20, 2001
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Spirited Away © Studio GhibliAfter several very fine films, like ‘My Neighbor Totoro‘ (1988) and ‘Princess Mononoke’ (1997), Miyazaki tops himself with his masterpiece ‘Spirited Away’. This film single-handedly places him among the greatest masters of animation of all time.

The film depicts a strange and inexplicable, yet surprisingly complete fantasy world, with a conviction and originality that has rarely been seen since Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’. At the same time, unlike several of Miyazaki’s earlier films, one feels that ‘Spirited away’ could only have been made in Japan. Its setting of a public bath, with its numerous gods and demi-gods, is totally Japanese.

Yet, its story about coming of age is universal as is its appeal. The little girl Chihiro (or Sen, as she’s called during most of the film) is the greatest of Miyazaki’s heroines. Like Kiki in ‘Kiki’s Delivery Service’ (1989), she matures during the film, but the fears and terrors she has to conquer are far more alarming than Kiki’s, and her growth is way more convincing. Not only has she to prove herself, she has to regain her name, and most importantly, she has to rescue her parents, who have been transformed into pigs in a particularly horrifying scene. At one scene we see her stricken with traumatic stress. In another we watch her breaking down. Despite some exaggerations (a flood of tears, for example), these scenes are so surprisingly real, they startle the viewer who’s used to the formalized emotions of many commercial animation films, whether Japanese or Western.

However, the character animation of Chihiro is outstanding throughout the film: she is a true girl and not an adult in disguise, and her emotions feel genuine and seem deeply rooted in observation of real human behavior. We identify immediately with her, and she’s strong enough a character to make her extraordinary journey in that strange, mysterious and dreamlike world believable.

Typical for Miyazaki, even in this hostile world our young heroine is not without friends, and even the most unpleasant characters (Yubaba and Without Face) are not without their weaknesses or positive character traits. On the other hand, even the good can look fearsome and unpleasant, as Yaku does in his dragon form. Also typical for Miyazaki is his depiction of children at work (see ‘Laputa – Castle in the Sky‘ (1986) and ‘Kiki’s Delivery Service’). On the other hand, his recurring theme of man versus nature is less apparent in this film, although it does appear in the form of a polluted river god.

In all, ‘Spirited Away’ is a rich film of pure delight and will enchant everyone everywhere in the world.

Watch the trailer for ‘Spirited Away’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Pete Doctor
Release Date: November 2, 2001
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Monsters, Inc. © PixarPixar’s fourth film can be considered the studio’s best up to that point.

The very idea of monsters needing to scare children to fuel their city is a masterstroke. As is their mutual fright for children. The idea of closet doors leading to a parallel world is used to the max, especially in the breathtaking finale, whose premise is both logical to the plot as strikingly original and totally unexpected. Nothing to the story is predictable, and its lead characters Sully, Mike and Boo and their nemesis, the slithery Randall, are very well developed.

The only two lesser points may be Monstropolis itself, which is a surprisingly unimaginative copy of an average American town, and the film’s humor. Compared to Dreamworks’s ‘Shrek’, released earlier that year, Monsters, Inc.’s humor is rather mild. It heads for steady smiles, not for loud guffaws. Moreover, the loudmouth comic sidekick, the green eyeball Mike (voiced by Billy Crystal), never really gets convincingly funny or very sympathetic, and he pales compared to Eddie Murphy’s Donkey in ‘Shrek’.

No, the main selling point of Monsters Inc. is heart: the endearing ‘love story’ between top scare Sully and the little child Boo is completely convincing. This makes ‘Monsters, Inc.’, apart from being startlingly original, a sweet film. One that is able to move you time and time again.

Besides, ‘Monsters, Inc.’ displays some spectacular effect animation, the highlight being Sully laying in the snow, with his hair blowing in the blizzard, something unseen up to that point.

In 2013 ‘Monsters, Inc.’ fell prey to Hollywood’s sequel mania ,spawning the prequel ‘Monster University’.

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