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Kiki's Delivery Service

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He's occasionally called "The Walt Disney Of Japan," but most of animator Hayao Miyazaki's films have been difficult to find in the U.S., despite the well-received 1993 release of My Neighbor Totoro. Disney's company in America snatched up the rights to them a couple years ago, and Kiki's Delivery Service, released in Japan in 1989, is the company's first attempt to find an audience for Miyazaki in America. It shouldn't be much of a problem. An extremely sweet-natured film, Kiki features the adventures of a young witch (voiced by Kirsten Dunst) who sets out on her own with her intelligent cat Jiji (voiced by the late Phil Hartman, who's great) at the age of 13. Once settled in a new city, she takes advantage of her broom-flying abilities to start a courier service with the aid of a helpful baker and other new friends. Though featuring the familiar Japanese mixture of simple, iconic characters and more detailed, realistic surroundings, Miyazaki's characters seem more human than those of many of his peers. He also takes advantage of animation's ability to be cinematic in a way many cartoons do not. On this side of the ocean, Disney has done a nice job providing English-language voice talent by recruiting, in addition to Dunst and Hartman, Janeane Garofalo, Debbie Reynolds, and Edie McClurg. Kiki's slow pace and light-on-conflict plot may surprise kids used to American animation, but it's difficult not to be won over by the film's endearing characters and beautiful animation, as well as a storyline that stresses the values of independence and friendship.