Kiki’s Delivery Service is, first and foremost, a children’s film. From the eighties. Also it’s a coming-of-age story, and unless those are done reeeeeeeally well, they can induce a hard-core snooze-fest. But hot damn, it eschewed all these possible pitfalls, and became one of the only Miyazaki films I actively like.
The film pulls off its slice-of-life portions stunningly, to the point where it becomes easy to overlook all the happy coincidences that Kiki runs into. Every instance of "no, there aren't any witches living here, so why don't you!" or "well, honey, you can live in my house for FREE!" receive a free pass since the young witch's trials of adjusting to her new life, financial difficulties, and making it (sort of) on her own for the first time are so engaging. I just sat there with this big silly grin on my face because somehow all the boring things this boring girl did felt fresh and deserving of viewers' full attention.
Everything moves along spiffily until the contrived conflict arrives out of the blue. It substantially detracts from the film’s value by introducing threads that are completely unnecessary and jarringly incongruent from the established pace. When Kiki’s [SPOILERSPOILERSPOILER], I couldn’t help but lose interest and think that, yeah, I’ve seen that all before, booooooring. Sure, the movie’s a bit aged, but that climax (and it’s resolution, which was similarly handled in the most cliché and over-used way possible) was nothing new in the 80s.
That town is handsome. For realsies. No wonder Kiki fell in love with it.
As for the animation- Kiki’s Delivery Service is a Ghibli film. It looks like a Ghibli film. And for once, I mean that in the most sincere, complimentary way possible. The character designs are adorable, the backgrounds are über-gorgeous, and movement is consistently fluent. Studio Ghibli has this whole thing down to some sort of movie-animating science. Or witchcraft, I’ve yet to decide which. This category doesn't deserve top marks because the animation didn’t have that extra something-something that makes it stand out from everything ever made ever, but nonetheless it was incredibly solid.
Another thing I like about Ghibli is the ace casting- and with that giant budget, of course they’re gonna hire the best. Additionally, in typical Disney fashion, the dub voices are all sorts of super. Only the most hardened anti-dub fanatic could find fault with it. Or one that finds Phil Hartman’s performance as Jiji abrasive.
I, however, adored this casting, as it gave him this great smarmy voice that augmented his constant chiding of Kiki and absolutely everything she set her mind to. It’s like he was saying everything I was thinking, albeit in a more irritating and plot-relevant manner!
Quite the mixed bag. Kiki is the standard Studio Ghibli female protagonist- vaguely spunky, eternally optimistic, and sporting youthful attractiveness and a personality virtually indistinguishable from the likes of Sophie from Howl’s Moving Castle, Totoro’s Satsuki, a potato, or any of the oodles of Ghibli leading-lady clones. Hell, even the Disney princesses have more variation (and I’m not just referring to their wardrobes, either). Making over two decades of movies with the exact same heroine is ridiculous. At the very least, please toss in some interesting character flaws (and no, Kiki’s eye roll-inducing conduct towards Tombo doesn’t count).
Apart from the mains, the supporting cast included the standard “nice old lady”, “guy who looks big and scary but is actually nice”, “lady who is so nice, you wonder why she hasn’t been robbed blind yet”, and “person who is nice and has no other distinguishing characteristics”. None of them played a huge role in the narrative, so their blandness can largely be overlooked.
Free from the environmental themes that usually plague Miyazaki’s work, Kiki’s Delivery Service is an endearing film. Like most of the studio’s work, much of its charm is culled from nostalgia, but even the uninitiated can find plenty to enjoy. Recommended for people who enjoy calm stories and won't get hung up over insipid characterization. Those who enjoy meatier yarns may want to steer clear.
Kiki is a young witch who has just turned thirteen, and as tradition dictates she must now leave the safety of her home for a year to undergo witch training. One clear night, Kiki takes off with her cat Jiji and her mother's broomstick to start her new life, and finds herself in a town near the ocean - but she's disappointed to find that people aren't nearly as friendly as she'd imagined they'd be. With nowhere to stay and no outstanding magical skills besides flying, Kiki begins to wonder if she's come to the right place; but after returning a pacifier to a customer of a local shop, its owner, Osono, offers her a place to stay. Kiki soon decides that she'll start her own delivery service, and with the help of newfound friends she sets forth on a journey to discover who she is and how to make it on her own.