film review: Spirited Away ***1/2

Spirited Away, like so many foreign films, bears little resemblance to American cinema. Yet, because it’s animated, Western audiences have oft-compared the film to favored cuddly hits like Monsters, Inc, Aladdin, and Ice Age.

This month, after winning the Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film, it is being re-released in theatres, and the mainstream parallels have finally started to detour. Moviegoers are beginning to realize that this film, directed by Japanese legend Hayao Miyazaki (Princess Mononoke), does not prance around in the same wonderland playground as Mickey and friends, and that is a grand admission.

The film starts with a young girl, Chihiro, riding in a car with her parents. When they take a wrong turn, her dad suggests they examine a mysterious tunnel. On the other side, they find what looks like an abandoned theme park, but soon learn that it’s actually a bathhouse for spirits, which take the form of strange monsters. Viewers (who don’t watch “Adult Swim” on Cartoon Network) might find it odd when Chihiro’s parents begin eating food and quickly turn into pigs. Welcome to Miyazaki’s fantastically warped vision.

As the plot progresses it becomes quite scattered, submerging totally into the vivid spirit world where Chihiro becomes a lowly employee. She encounters many spirits and bizzare happenings, leading up to the ending, when she tries to save her parents and herself.

Spirited Away is too far out there for a review to inflate it with rationality. Moreover, it true significance resides in the beauty of the mature animation and music. Chihiro meets many fully conceived creatures along her journey, some friendly and some jerked out of a Pok