Two classics from director Hayao Miyazaki, "Kiki's Delivery Service" and "Castle in the Sky" are two absolutely delightful family films. They also provide fine examples of the master animator's work - every one of Miyazaki's films (see also "Spirited Away" and "Princess Mononoke") boast a remarkable amount of imagination and extraordinary storytelling. It's incredible to see the animation style of each of the films and the subtle details of the animation in each movie.
"Kiki's" focuses on Kiki (voiced by Kirsten Dunst), a young girl who must follow tradition to become a witch. However, when she takes her cat (voiced by the late Phil Hartman) and flies off, she finds herself in a small town. While she plans on working towards being the head witch in a new town, she doesn't get the welcome she planned for in this new city.
Alone without help or direction, she is soon taken in by a baker named Osono (Tress MacNeille), who allows her and her cat to stay while Kiki does delivery work. She also finds a new friend in Tombo (Matthew Lawrence), a boy who's falling for Kiki, and Ursula (Janeane Garofalo), a painter who Kiki befriends. The film is the lightest of Miyazaki's films, but is a charming adventure that follows Kiki as she learns about being independent in the world.
"Castle" isn't as light as "Kiki"'s, but the adventure is just as richly entertaining. It's remarkable that "Castle" is about 15 years old at this point - the picture has certainly stood the test of time extraordinarily well, and that's thanks to the engaging story and bold animation.
The adventure focuses on Pazu (voiced by James Van Der Beek), a young engineer's apprentice who finds a young girl, Sheeta (Anna Paquin), floating down from the sky. Together, the two come to find that they are both destined to head towards the magical, floating island city of Laputa and save Laputa's power from being used for evil. Both films offer astonishing, awe-inspiring sequences, and "Castle"'s floating city is a delight, with an incredible amount of imagination having obviously gone into each and every detail of this epic adventure (which, despite the 125-minute running time, moves like the wind.)
Overall, these are two very different films and two charming classics. "Castle in the Sky" and "Kiki's Delivery Service" are charming family films all ages can enjoy.
VIDEO: "Castle in the Sky" is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. While the transfer isn't without some concerns and issues, it is an enjoyable presentation overall. Sharpness and detail are inconsistent, although the majority of the film looked at least reasonably crisp.
Mild edge enhancement is seen at times, as are some moments of visible specks/marks on the elements used. The film's rich color palette appeared accurately presented, with fine saturation and no smearing or other faults.
"Kiki's" looked just fine, with a crisp, smooth presentation of Miyazaki's lovely imagery. A few slight instances of edge enhancement were spotted and the picture did display a couple of minor instances of wear, but the picture otherwise looked clean. Colors remained vibrant and lively, looking bright and well-saturated. While not without some mild flaws, the presentation was still satisfying.
SOUND: Disney has included both the original Japanese soundtrack and English dubbed track - both are presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 (a French 2.0 track is also provided). When it was released theatrically, some theaters carried the Japanese version, some theaters carried the English dubbed version, and some had one screen for each. While the original language version is preferred, the English dubbing is pretty good, too.
Both tracks handle the material quite wonderfully; this is not a particularly aggressive soundtrack in the traditional sense, but surrounds will still get a very enjoyable workout throughout the feature. The rear speakers do handle a moderate amount of ambience, the occasional more noticable sound effect and reinforcement of the score.
EXTRAS: Both films feature introductions by "Toy Story" director John Lasseter, a storyboard presentation of the movie, "Behind the Studio" (a series of short promotional featurettes) and "Enter the Lands" (an interactive look at the characters from Miyazaki's films.) Each of the films also contains a featurette from one of the other recent Miyazaki titles.
Final Thoughts: Two very different films, two charming classics: "Castle in the Sky" and "Kiki's Delivery Service" are charming family films all ages can enjoy. Both DVD editions provide fine audio/video quality, as well as a nice array of minor supplements. Highly recommended.