Disney presents the English language version of this successful Japanese animation or anime feature from renowned filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki. This fantasy story, based on the fairy tales of Japan, follows the adventure of ten-year-old Chihiro (voiced by Daveigh Chase). On their way to a new home in a new city, Chihiro’s father takes a wrong turn and ends up at what seems to be an abandoned amusement park. But Chihiro is alarmed when her parents turn into pigs while eating at a food stand. She’s befriended by Haku (Jason Marsden), a young boy who tells her to save her parents, she must get a job in Yubaba’s (Suzanne Pleshette) bathhouse. The bathhouse is like a weekend spa for the various spirits of Japanese mythology.
Helped by the gruff but kindly Kamaji (David Ogden Steirs), the six armed operator of the bathhouse furnace, and befriended by Lin, a tough servant girl, Chihiro changes from a timid and scared little girl into a confident and wise helper. But can Chihiro pass Yubaba’s final test to free her parents? At just over two hours, “Spirited Away” may make some restless, but the fantasy world of Chihiro is a fascinating look at another culture’s fables.
Like the mythology of Greece or Rome, the film reflects a belief in many ‘spirits’ that personify rivers, plants, and animals. Haku is sometimes seen as a dragonlike image and a similar dragon is referred to as a river spirit. Yubaba renames Chihiro, reflecting a belief that taking away a person’s name gives you power over them. The story also touches upon the pollution of rivers and the power of love as Chihiro deals with various trials. Treated as a fantasy fairy tale, “Spirited Away” can be recommended for pre-teens and older, but discussions afterward may be in order.