Dir: Hayao Miyazaki
[Original language] Rumi Hiiraga, Miyu Irino, Takeshi Naitou, Yasuko Sawaguchi
Miyazaki is the finest maker of animated features ever. Yet his past few films have fallen somewhat short, not least the painfully overblown polemic of Mononoke Hime, so I approached Spirited Away with trepidation, not least because its length (124 minutes) threatened more of the same. I can report with relief that while not quite up to the level of his best work, it's still fantastically imaginative, in much the same way as Alice in Wonderland. A young girl, Chihiro, and her parents stumble into the Disneyland of the Gods - a theme-park where deities comes to relax. They are turned into swine; she gets a job in the bath-house, and must find out how to rescue them, while dealing with the characters who work and play there.
The first hour is fabulous, as Chihiro falls through the rabbit-hole and explores her new land - animation is perfect for sequences such as her turning transluscent, and the mix of cel and CGI animation throughout is beautifully handled. There are echoes of earlier Miyazaki films (most notably My Neighbour Totoro, which also had a young girl discovering a magical realm hidden inside everyday reality) but the invention on view is just phenomenal. When the plot kicks in later on, it's notably less successful and is largely unconvincing, while the pacing goes off too - a journey on the spirit railroad makes everything grind to a halt, just at the wrong moment. Still, if this doesn't get the Oscar for Best Animated Film, there's no justice. Though, let's face it, what will - Veggie Tales?