I’d be lying if I said I was excited to watch Kiki’s Delivery Service. A film about a teen-girl who delivers packages on a flying broom? It sounds like a bad episode of Sabrina, or an assembly line made novel for pre-teen girls. The latter is closer in that Kiki’s Delivery Service was a 1985 children’s fantasy novel by Eiko Kadono. Though I apologize for assuming something with that title would be bad. Both the novel and the film have many fans, and I’m glad to say I’m now one of them.
Kiki, is a young witch-in-training, who after recently turning 13 must leave home for a year to hone her abilities. Kiki travels to a seaside town along with her smart-alecky sidekick cat Jiji, and quickly befriends a baker. The baker gives Kiki room and board in exchange for delivering packages around town, which leads to a handful of silly but also valuable life building experiences. Kiki also attracts the attention of a quirky young boy obsessed with aviation named Tombo, quirkiness ensues.
Going in I was fully ready for Kiki to be a whimsical adventure film, when in actuality it’s much more understated. Kiki isn’t as much an adventure film as it’s a subtle coming of age film. Kiki faces many issues that face real teen girls. There are times that Kiki struggles with her appearance, her skills, and other insecurities. The film isn’t so much about Kiki being a witch as it’s about Kiki becoming her own person. The witch angle is primarily used to increase Kiki’s alienation in a time where all she wants is to be accepted. Kiki’s Delivery Service tackles some very mature themes and results in a unique experience.
Themes aside, there’s plenty of fun to have in Kiki. I was quite partial to Kiki’s friendship with her cynical cat Jiji (voiced in the U.S. version by funnyman Phil Hartman). Some great set sequences include Kiki trying avoid a wild flock of wild crows, Kiki befriending a free-spirited painter, and Kiki trying to stop a rogue blimp. The film has a beautiful palette, with the setting taking the appearance of a northern European village. Of course, Kiki’s Delivery Service only further plunges into Miyazaki’s passion for the sky, so expect plenty of majestic arial shots.
It’s funny, I went into Kiki’s Delivery Service expecting it to the weakest Miyazaki film. Thankfully, this was not the case. I think I’ve come to the conclusion that Miyazaki has never gone forth with a project that he didn’t have 100% confidence in. So maybe there aren’t any bad Miyazaki movies? We’ll find out next when I’ll be reviewing Porco Rosso. Until then, keep watching the skies!
P.S. In the U.S. Version by Disney, Kiki is voiced by Kirsten Dunst. File that under who gives a shit.