“We each need to find our own inspiration, Kiki. Sometimes it’s not easy.” -Ursula
“Gigi, I’ve decided not to leave this town. Maybe I can stay and find some other nice people who will like me and accept me for who I am.” -Kiki
Kiki was Miyazaki’s first major success at the box office. Although Totoro was popular, it gathered more steam once it had come out on VHS and was run on the tv. Kiki was popular the minute it came out. Why? It’s cute. It has an easy story to follow. There’s not really a villain. It’s very kid friendly. It has characters that are memorable. Plus, it’s about a kid doing amazing things. And she’s a witch that can do magic. (seriously, why has this movie not made a huge comeback??) What’s not to love?
This was the second Miyazaki movie I saw. We bought it on VHS sometime in the 90s, and I remember that this was the moment I realized that the animated tv show of Little Women that I loved was Japanese animated. I know that has nothing to do with the Kiki movie, but it’s a random fact. anyway, i liked it, but it didn’t hit me like Totoro did as a kid. Even now, it’s probably one of my least favorite Miyazaki movies. But like I said before, asking me to pick my least favorite Miyazaki movies is like making me pick my least favorite Pixar movie. It’s still better than 90% of the movies out there.
Kiki is a really simple story. there’s not really a villain like i said before, there’s no war or action (or very little). It’s just a coming of age story: a girl finding her place in the world, quite literally.
Kiki is a 13 year old witch in a world where this type of thing is apparently pretty normal. when a witch turns thirteen, she sets off on her own to a city/town/village to find what she is good at and make herself a valuable member of society. Along with her companion talking cat Jiji (it’s a boy – in case that’s not clear) she lands in a beautiful seaside city, and after some searching, eventually settles on starting a delivery service, running it out of a bakery of a nice couple who are letting her stay. We follow Kiki as she attempts her deliveries as she learns a little about people, life, and how to make friends. through growing up, she learns, arguably, how to be a kid.
The most of a climax we get is a dirigible getting ready to crash into town (think the hindenburg) and Kiki has to help get the people out. It is pretty intense for younger kids. Actually, it’s kinda a perfect conflict for little kids.
Just like Castle in the Sky, if I had to pick a word to describe this movie, it would be this: Happy. Oh my goodness this movie is just happy. In some ways it is more of a feel good movie than Totoro is. Part of it is just the way this movie is set up: since there IS not villain, there’s no real seriousness. That’s not to say the movie doesn’t take itself seriously, but instead, there’s no overarching hatred of a character or situation. It’s just Kiki figuring things out about life and about people.
I want to talk about our protagonist for a minute, especially because she is part of the huge reason this movie is just so happy. Miyazaki’s one for making great female characters, and I would throw Kiki in the mix. She’s a step above Sheeta and Satsuki, but a step below Nausicaa. She’s young, confident, independent, and strong. But at the same time she’s naive, shy (around certain people) and one track minded. She’s a real person and a real kid, but one that has flaws and acts arguably older than she really is. If anything, Kiki is a girl who really isn’t great at anything. She’s good at things, and she tries extremely hard, but she’s not amazing at any one thing. She’s still trying to find her niche. She’s the kind of person who is set on doing what she’s supposed to do, is willing to help anyone, and pays attention. At the same time, she doesn’t really “enjoy” what she’s doing, in that she is so focused on work that she forgets to have fun. In spite of that, she has the most infectious personalities ever. She puts a smile on everyone’s face she meets.
The only other major character that’s not just a side character is Jiji, Kiki’s cat. Voiced by Phil Hartman, this little black cat acts as a conscience and also a bit of comedic relief. He’s plucky and sarcastic, and he’s a good balance to Kiki’s upbeat nature. In the English dub, he has some pretty good one-liners, and it does make me wonder what kind of jokes he makes in his native language.
There’s a few other characters in the movie, but no one too major. There’s the pregnant woman and her husband who run the bakery. She’s nice, and he doesn’t really say anything at all the entire movie. She motivates Kiki and takes care of her almost the way a mother would. The other smaller character would be Tambo, a boy who has a crush on Kiki and thinks she’s the most amazing person in the world. Where Kiki is super serious, Tambo is the opposite. He knows how to have fun, and spends a lot of his free time tinkering with his flying machine, a bike with a propeller on it. He attempts to teach Kiki how to have fun, and tries to get to know her despite her one-track mind. He finds himself on the dirigible at the end, and Kiki must save him as well as the others.
Probably the most interesting thing about this movie is how Kiki learns her lesson. As I mentioned above, her one major “flaw” is that she is almost too serious about her job. She ends up working herself so hard that she ends up losing her magic. Suddenly she can’t fly on her broom, do other magic, or even talk to Jiji. It’s only after she spends some time with this woman named Ursula out in the woods (yeah I forgot to mention her….) that she can almost relax and find her magic again.
It’s a part of the movie that actually doesn’t last too long, but it’s a good reminder to all of us not to work too hard, because we’ll lose the part of us that makes us unique and just work ourself into oblivion. Again somehow Miyazaki manages to work in the environment. Ursula is almost a bit of a hippie, living out in the woods in a log cabin. She draws crows and cooks with herbs she finds in the forest. But she manages to stay relaxed and knows who she is. She’s a good person for Kiki to meet.
In fact, everyone in the movie meets Kiki for a reason. That’s like real life, isn’t it? I like to think that everyone in your life you meet for a reason. they all teach you something. Kiki’s Delivery Service makes me think that Miyazaki believes that too.
Some of the only things I don’t like about this movie are some of the things that make it really endearing. The lack of a villain. The lack of action. Some of it is just things that to me, don’t make for a movie i can watch over and over. Another issue i have, however, is one that has to do with the dubbing. All in all,the voices in this are pretty good. I mentioned the late Phil Hartman as Jiji, and he is awesome. Kirsten Dunst does a good job as Kiki. Janeane Garofalo is enjoyable as Ursula. The one voice I really don’t like though is Matthew Lawrence as Tambo. I don’t know why. I felt like Tambo should have this really playful voice, and Matthew Lawrence is just… being Matthew Lawrence. You don’t feel it. You can’t think of him as this character. You just think of him as him, or as Jack on Boy Meets World.
The only other issue I have I actually didn’t know I had until I learned about the dubbing. Now it is sort of common that when dubs get transferred into other languages, the company takes a bit of leeway and will add in lines in places where maybe there was no speaking in the original. This might be done to get across something they think the audience won’t get, or to add in useful information. This movie does that in a few places with Jiji. BUT THE LINES THEY ADD IN DON’T MATTER. It’s literally just Jiji’s jokes. why? why? why? I dunno. The one that really bugs me is at the very end and Kiki’s just saved everyone and Jiji is walking up to her. In the original he doesn’t say anything until he gets to her. In the english version, he talks literally the entire way up to her. And it’s not anything important. It’s just Jiji talking. WHY? I have no idea.
I’m not going to say too much more about this movie. This is the last in what I guess I would call completely family friendly Miyzaki movies for a while, meaning that with this and Totoro, anyone can watch them. We’re going to get into more serious Ghibli fanfare soon, or, as I call it, the golden Era. Really excited to do the next four movies.
I give Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989) a 3.5 out of 5. I wasn’t a huge fan as a kid, still not really. That doesn’t mean it’s not a good movie. Still enjoyable.
Next up: Porco Rosso (1991)