Spirited Away

spiritedawayHayao Miyazaki is known throughout the world for his breathtaking animation, especially in a CGI world, Miyazaki’s more traditional drawings can feel like a breath of fresh air for adults watching it with children. For children, it may remind me them of older Disney movies or introduce them to an entirely new format.

Spirited Away is perhaps the most well-known of his movies in America, aided by winning the Oscar for Best Animated Feature in 2003. The movie is rated PG, and though it has great appeal for adults, it is intended for children. Miyazaki’s skill in animation is undeniable. The colors are bright and engaging, his landscapes feel as real as a picture. His world building is undeniable also.

Chihiro, a sullen ten-year-old, and her parents wander into what appears to be an abandoned theme park on their way to their new home. But it actually turns out to be a resting place for spirits. As the sun sets, the spirits arrive in all their various forms. There are large spirits, tiny spirits, frog spirits, radish spirits, and every kind of odd shape spirit you can imagine.

It is not only that Chihiro is stuck in the spirit world, but that her parents have turned into pigs. You read that right. Her parents begin eating at the abandoned park, devouring the food like they haven’t eaten in years. During this early scene, I remember thinking, “Man, they’re eating just like pigs.” Then, they turned into actual pigs.

The immediate comparison is to Alice in Wonderland and that is apt comparison. Chihiro doesn’t fall down a rabbit hole, but she certainly does enter a different world with different roles, unreal people and places, and food that alters appearance and perception. She eats something Haku (a boy at the bath house) gives her, and she’s able to cross the bridge safely. Later, Haku gives her more food that increases her strength and improves her mood.

Over ruling the bathhouse, and most of the spirit world, is Yubaba, an old woman with a huge head. Like, literally, her head is completely out of proportion with her body. Yubaba can also turn into birds, but keeps her human head. Joined by Yubaba is her giant baby (seriously, GIANT) that she keeps locked in a room. And the baby can talk.

There are too many other characters to mention by name, but know that the movie is far from simple. There is depth, metaphors, symbols, motifs, and commentary of everything from poverty, economics, greed, trust, family, and heroism to fear, trusting yourself, and trusting others. To touch on each of those topics would require a separate blog post for each one.

The film could be used in a variety of ways. For children interested in different types of animation, this film is a gem. It provides a great contrast to CGI and computer animated films like Toy Story and Frozen. It can also serve as an introduction to Japanese culture and history. The comment is made by Chihiro’s parents that so many amusement parks popped up all over the country but closed after the economy went south. There are also statues and shrines for the deceased, common in Japanese culture, which could open dialogue and research about Japanese customs and beliefs concerning the dead.

The only weakness in the film is that it may be disturbing to some viewers. If a kid is freaked out by Alice in Wonderland or The Wizard of Oz, this may not be the film for them. However, for fans of those films, Spirited Away is sure to delight.

Bibliographic Information:
Spirited Away. By Hayao Miyazaki. Perf. Daveigh Chase, Suzanne Pleshette, & Susan Egan. Studio Ghibli, 2001. DVD.

Oscar for Best Animated Feature, 2003
Saturn Award for Best Animated Film, 2003
Silver Scream Award, 2003
Annie Awards, 2003:
Outstanding Achievement in an Animated Theatrical Feature
Outstanding Directing in an Animated Feature Production, Hayao Miyazaki
Outstanding Music in an Animated Feature Production, Joe Hisaishi
Outstanding Writing in an Animated Feature Production, Hayao Miyazaki
Awards of the Japanese Academy, 2002:
Best Film
Best Song, Youmi Kimura
Golden Berlin Bear, 2002
Blue Ribbon Award for Best Film, 2002
Boston Society of Film Critics Award, Critics Choice Award for Best Animated Feature, 2002

And many, many others…. If I list them all this post will be go on forever


Alice in Wonderland
The Wizard of Oz
Kiki’s Delivery Service
Howl’s Moving Castle
My Neighbor Totoro






Anastasia-Family-Fun-Edition-DVDAnastasia centers around the idea that the Princess Anastasia managed to escape the seize of the castle in the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917. Rumors are swirling in St. Petersburg that Anastasia is alive and her grandmamma is willing to pay a large sum to the person who delivers her precious granddaughter back to her. This is the opportunity Dmitri has been waiting for. This is his chance to escape bleak St. Petersburg, and he auditions girls to try out for the role of Anastasia. Aided by his friend Vlad, they stumble upon a girl who bears remarkable resemble to the princess. And Dmitri would know—he’s the one who helped Anastasia and her grandmother escape the palace. What follows is a thrill-filled musical as the trio, along with Anastasia’s dog, Puka, travel from St. Petersburg to Paris, France. But their trip is not without hazards as the evil, Rasputin, who sold his soul and cursed the Romanovs, and has vowed to kill the last of Romanovs.

Of course, the movie is not accurate in regards to Russian history. Rasputin’s powers of darkness are cited as the reason for the Bolshevik revolution. Rasputin’s appearance in the movie is not terrible far off from the real Rasputin’s appearance though. Both are creepy. Rasputin in the movie can be downright terrifying. The movie is rated G, but adults should be aware of some scenes that might scare children. In the first few minutes of the movie, Rasputin sells his soul to the powers of darkness, a swirling green mass of cylindrical lights. The powers rip Rasputin’s skin from his body, leaving nothing but bones until theyrasputinana restore his flesh. He falls beneath the ice while chasing Anastasia through the town and gets trapped in limbo. When his faithful servant, a bat named Bartok, finds him in limbo, he is literally falling apart. His mouth moves down his beard, his neck and stretch until he hits the top of his skull-covered home. His arm stretches and the tendons are visible as his skin melts away. His hand pops off, leaving nothing but a stump with a piece of bone visible and red muscle around it. He actively tries to kill Anastasia by invading her dreams and trying to make her jump off the ship in the middle of a storm. This is after trying to kill her on the train by breaking the cars apart and tearing down the bridge.

rasputinRasputin is a remarkable villain, but Anastasia is a more remarkable princess. Coming more than a decade by Disney’s feisty Princess Merida in Brave and Queen Elsa and Princess Anna in Frozen, and a year for Mulan, Anastasia speaks her mind and saves not only herself, but Dmitri. She accidentally hits Dmitri in the face when he wakes her and he grumbles about it. Anastasia remarks under her breath that all men are baby. She is not looking for a prince, for love, but looking for connections to the past she can’t remember. Anastasia remembers nothing before the orphanage and her first musical number is her desire to find her past, to find herself, and to find a home. Though she does find love, because it’s almost impossible for a princess movie to not include romance, it is simply something that happens to Anastasia as it often does in real life.

In the final climatic scene, Rasputin has reappeared and breaks yet another bridge and tries to send Anastasia into the frigid waters below. Dmitri swoops in and helps her back from dangling off the ledge of the crumbling bridge, but it isn’t long before he is knocked unconscious. Anastasia is left battling Rasputin by herself and kicks his butt. She captures his glass vial that contains his powers. She smashes is with her foot, smashing it for Dmitri and for her family. With a final smash of heel, Rasputin turns to dust. She was a super action hero princess before there was such a term or trend.anasmash

While the movie does have some disturbing parts, children are sure to love it. The songs are just as catchy as anything Disney produces. For the children and adults, go watch this for nothing except to get “Do You Wanna Build A Snowman?” and “Let It Go” out of your head. I’ve included a two YouTube clips, one for “There’s a Rumor in St. Petersburg” and “Once Upon a December” for your viewing pleasure. It balances the dark and the humorous rather well. While Bartok is Rasputin’s batty sidekick, he is hilarious as it Puka, the dog. Ultimately, the movie is about the importance of family, friends, honesty, and most importantly finding oneself.

The movie can be used for both younger and older children. For older children who may know a little about Russian history, it can be used to contrast the reality versus the fantasy the movie puts forth. For any child who might have already heard of Anastasia—the rumors for many years that she did survive—this movie will thrill and delight. For those who haven’t heard of Anastasia, a good book to start with would be the Royal Diaries about Anastasia. It could serve as a very brief introduction to Russian culture by providing students/patrons with factual books about Russian culture and history.

ASCAP Most Performed Songs from Motion Pictures: Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty for the song “At the Beginning”, 1999
Outstanding Individual Achievement for Voice Acting by a Male Performer in an Animated Feature Production: Hank Azaria for “Bartok”, 1998
Blockbuster Entertainment Award: Favorite Animated Family Movie, 1998
Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards: Best Family Film, 1998
Casting America Society, USA: Best Casting for Animated Voice Over, Brian Chavanne, 1998
Motion Picture Sound Editors, USA: Best Sound Editing-Music Animation, Brent Brooks & Tom Villano, 1998
Young Artist Awards: Best Family Feature Film-Animation, 1998

Bibliographic Information: Anastasia. By Don Bluth and Gary Goldman. Perf. Meg Ryan, John Cusack. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, 1997. DVD.

The Princess and the Frog

“There’s a Rumor in St. Petersburg

“Once Upon a December”

Hotel Transylvania

hotelHotel Transylvania is a laugh-out-loud coming age of story about Mavis Dracula, daughter of the Dracula, as she celebrates her 118th birthday and yearns to explore the world outside the confines of her safe home. Dracula built the hotel as a haven for monsters. Hotel Transylvania is a sanctuary where no evil, blood-thirsty humans are allowed. Mavis’s lavish birthday party should go off without a hitch. All of the monster guests, everyone from the Mummy to Frankenstein to the werewolves, arrive on time, but all of Dracula’s well laid plans are gone to waist when an ordinary human boy wanders into the hotel! Dracula disguises the boy as a monster, but his life is further complicated by Mavis’s growing crush on the human, Jonathan, and the other monsters’ love for him and his stories.

Adults who enjoy classic horror movies will like the movie for its references to the classic monsters that may go over the children’s heads. Quasimodo is the cook; Frankenstein and Frankenstein’s bride are Mavis’s aunt and uncle; zombies are the bellboys; the Invisible Man startles everyone; and various other monsters that pop up throughout.

Ultimately, the movie has a positive message about accepting yourself and others who are different from you. It is also emphasizes the love a father has for a parent and how parents want nothing more than their children to be happy and the lengths a parent will go to ensure that. It is about finding yourself, taking risks, and chasing your dreams.

The Motion Picture Association of America rated the movie PG for some rude humor, action and scary images.

BMI Film Music Award Film Music: Mark Mothersbaugh, 2013
Kids’ Choice Awards, USA, Favorite Voice from an Animated Movie: Adam Sandler as “Count Dracula”, 2013

Bibliographic Information:

Hotel Transylvania. Dir. Genndy Tartakovsky. Perf. Selena Gomez, Adam Sandler. Universal, 2012.


Monster House
Monsters vs. Aliens
Monsters, Inc.