Kiki’s Delivery Service Review: A coming-of-age masterpiece that’s full of high-flying adventure and heartwarming spirit
When I saw that Kiki’s Delivery Service, a film by Hayao Miyazaki that is based off of the novel of the same name by Elko Kadono, it actually became my most anticipated film of Studio Ghibli Fest 2019. I’ve actually been wanting to see this film for quite some time as the imagery has always made me think of it as a Japanese version of Sabrina the Teenage Witch (the 1996 series, not the Netflix version). Now after seeing it, it’s really stands on its own as a compelling coming of age story with stunning animation and a sense of high-flying adventure that stems from its main character.
The film follows a young witch named Kiki (voiced by Kirsten Dunst) as she leaves her family, as per tradition, in order to gain more experience and hone her abilities. With her smart aleck black cat, Jiji (voiced by Phil Hartman), at her side, Kiki finds a new city to call her own and finds companionship in Osono (voiced by Tress MacNeille), a bakery owner. Though she may not have any skills when she arrives, Kiki utilizes her flying ability to create a delivery service that allows her to gain prominence in the town. Things start out easy, but hardships quickly dash Kiki’s spirit and she struggles to figure out what she is supposed to get from this experience. So, with help from those around her, including a young admirer named Tombo (voiced by Matthew Lawrence) and an independent artist named Ursula (voiced by Janeane Garofalo), Kiki must overcome obstacles to gain a sense of fulfillment.
Kiki’s Delivery Service has such a perfect blend of coming-of-age story elements and lo-fi fantasy. In most films, witches are often shown to be making potions and casting spells, but that’s not what Kiki’s journey is really about. Rather, her journey is more personal and about her trying to make connections with those around her and figuring things out for herself. This focus on more coming-of-age story beats makes the film an incredibly humble and heartfelt experience that viewers will find themselves connecting to. Kiki definitely keeps in line with Studio Ghibli’s desires to have strong female leads as she has a vivacious spirit that’s intent on doing the best she can and emotional complexity that evokes a wide range of feelings in viewers. One of the things that actually hit me the hardest was when Kiki’s magical abilities started to fade, and she has to dig deep to regain her self-confidence. It’s a moment that I really didn’t expect and scenes like Kiki trying to fly again but failing and finding the strength to fly in order to save Tombo are powerful. Kiki’s story is truly coming-of-age at its finest and its messages of finding inner strength and taking chances are truly timeless.
The film also has a stellar voice cast that fills the film with a sense of adventure and offers some great comedic moments. Dunst completely hides her voice as Kiki and perfectly emits every emotion that she’s feeling with every line. Jiji is great comedic relief as Hartman’s snarky dialogue offers a lot of laughter. There’s even a lot of great animated moments attached to the character as well with his fur having static when he’s nervous and there’s a decently funny side-plot with him falling for a white cat. Tombo quickly becomes one of the best characters of the film as his unflinching interest in Kiki is interesting to see and their friendship can be a lot of fun. Lawrence lends his voice to give Tombo a confident and energetic performance that’s always fun to see. It’s actually funny as when I initially heard Tombo, I thought it was Lawrence’s former Boy Meets World castmate Will Friedle and I would argue that he gives a performance that’s of a similar caliber, which is a high compliment as Friedle is a voice-acting legend. Even MacNeille and Garofalo create strong authority figures with their respective characters and create a warm connection for Kiki to understand her issues.
The animation is simply stunning and there’s a strong attention to detail that creates a vibrant world for viewers to be immersed. The way Kiki’s dress moves as she’s flying really gives viewers a sense of the environment and even the way Miyazaki shows speed in scenes like Kiki and seagulls getting knocked around by a gust of wind and her and Tombo riding against traffic on his propeller bike are very energetic. Even with they way Kiki leans into each turn or quickly flies to save Tombo towards the end of the film adds a rush of energy that viewers can feel, and I really love how the audio is distorted when the perspective is in front of the propeller – it’s a great layer that adds something memorable to the moment. Even the score is great as most of the city has this European look to it and the music makes the city much livelier and creates this calmness that makes the film more of a relaxing watch.
The only thing I find strange about the film is the ending as, like Whisper of the Heart, ends on a bit of an abrupt note and I have started to notice something that Miyazaki does that I’m not super fond of. With abrupt endings, Miyazaki tends to have a lot of the resolutions and outcomes of characters happen during the credits. While seeing Tombo’s propeller plane actually work and all of the hijinks with Jiji and his kittens made me laugh, seeing in the credits didn’t feel as satisfying. I can appreciate that Miyazaki does something different and gives viewers a reason to stay for the credits, but it feels like its at the expense of a satisfying conclusion. While I’m more than happy with the film’s ending and love the scenes that play during the credits, it’s just something that I feel takes away from the full impact of the ending.
Kiki’s Delivery Service is easily one of Miyazaki’s most light-hearted and emotionally impacting films and is even a new favorite for me. It’s a film that’s truly timeless in every aspect and one that I will surely find myself re-watching every chance I get. Whether or not you’re a Ghibli fan, Kiki’s Delivery Service is an absolute must-see that will give you high-flying emotions that won’t let you down.