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Castle in the Sky / Kiki's Delivery Service

Miyazaki conjures a pubescent fable out of whole cloth that both kids and adults will enjoy immensely. Castle in the Sky, from 1986, isn’t Miyazaki’s finest, but that’s like saying Jackson Pollack’s Panel With Four Designs isn’t as good as his Lavender Mist.

Reviewed by Marc Savlov, Fri., May 2, 2003

DVD Watch

CASTLE IN THE SKY

Walt Disney Home Video, $29.99

KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE

Walt Disney Home Video, $29.99

Those unfamiliar with the work of Japanese animation master Hayao Miyazaki either haven't been paying attention -- he just won the Best Animated Feature Oscar for his most recent film, Spirited Away -- or don't hang at local Japan-fan stores like Momoko and Atomic City like I do, where all manner of Miyazaki ephemera crowd the shelves and assist many Miyazaki-loyal Austinites in disposing of their paychecks. (It's true, though: You simply can't have too many plush Totoros on your shelves.) Miyazaki's film catalog was purchased by Disney a couple of years back, resulting in a slow but semisteady trickle of Studio Ghibli (the director's animation studio) films into the American marketplace, all of which rival -- and frequently surpass -- old Walt's work in terms of style and sweep, not to mention pure, unadulterated imagination. Castle in the Sky, from 1986, isn't Miyazaki's finest, but that's like saying Jackson Pollack's Panel With Four Designs isn't as good as his Lavender Mist -- we're splitting hairs on the back of art's noggin. Castle in the Sky tells the story of Sheeta (voiced by Anna Paquin), a young girl who literally lands in the arms of Pazu (voiced by James Van Der Beek) one day while escaping from air-pirates. Together the pair strike out to discover the floating city of Laputa (from Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels) and return the royal-blooded Sheeta to her rightful position. As always, it's Miyazaki's rapturous use of color and backgrounds that make the film such an engrossing ride. Kiki's Delivery Service is fluffier stuff, an adolescent coming-of-age tale about the young witch Kiki (voiced by Kirsten Dunst) who leaves home at the age of 13 and starts the titular courier job in a new town as a way of (metaphorically, anyway) growing up and exiting childhood. Trust me, it's not that dry -- Miyazaki conjures a pubescent fable out of whole cloth that both kids and adults will enjoy immensely, and with the late Phil Hartman on board as Kiki's wiseacre feline familiar, there's many more comic moments than in the director's later work.

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