PUBLISHED 12 AUG 2016
IN its opening moments, KIKI’S DELIVERY SERVICE paints an unabashedly idyllic view of the picturesque countryside that is home to a very special 13 year old. As the personification of positivity topped with a red bow, Kiki (voiced by Kirsten Dunst in the Disney English dub) spreads joy to all she meets. Adapted from Eiko Kadono’s novel of the same name, KIKI’S DELIVERY SERVICE follows Kiki during her witches training, in which she must leave home for a year in order to improve upon her magical skills.
As a film without antagonists, KIKI’S DELIVERY SERVICE is free to revel in positivity and is a joyous event to experience. Every frame of animation is vibrant and charming, mirroring the protagonist’s spellbinding persona. Though there are moments of mayhem and disarray, there is always a quick recovery. When Kiki first attempts riding a broom, she is unable to control it and collides with several trees before finally straightening out. In revealing the flawed abilities of the protagonist, the film takes a realistic approach to an otherwise fantastical narrative. There is no final fight or nefarious nemesis as is the case with arguably more celebrated Miyazaki films such as SPIRITED AWAY (2003) or PRINCESS MONONOKE (1997). The only force Kiki comes up against is the wind itself, which causes trouble throughout the film, most notably with the film’s chaotic climax involving an out-of-control airship. Again, this is quickly resolved by Kiki.
Following her clumsy departure, Kiki finds her place in the port city of Koriko as a delivery girl, bewitching the locals who stare in awe at her supernatural broom-work. The main theme of flight becomes apparent here as all of Kiki’s new friends admire flight in some form; Tombo (Matthew Lawrence) leads the local aviation club, while quirky woodland artist Ursula (Janeane Garofalo) regularly uses crows for her life drawings. These characters remind Kiki of her magical aspirations and that she should not give up even in times that appear rough. Her connections to these characters become especially important when she begins to lose her ability to fly.
The message of positivity rings throughout. A talk with her sisterly figure Ursula reveals that losing magic is a lot like a creativity slump, showing Kiki the connection between her flying and her happiness and that the people around her experience similar hurdles in life. If it is not their flying they have lost, it may be their ability to paint, to invent or to cook. With her confidence now restored, Kiki is able to fly once more, no longer held back by doubt. She returns to her positive persona but now with a newfound sense of maturity.
KIKI’S DELIVERY SERVICE is a perfect blend of the mundane mixed with magic. Whereas other Miyazaki protagonists have to worry about rescuing their parents or protecting their hometown, Kiki merely needs to worry about delivering a parcel on time.