Having watched Spirited Away, I can safely say that it is one of the more layered and thoughtful children’s films that I have ever seen. It’s entirely possible to take the film at its face value as a young child would – a story of a young girl who must cope with rather strange circumstances in order save her parents. Or, one could see the film as a story highlighting the importance of love and the pitfalls of greed.
Many times throughout the movie, Chihiro is offered, yet refuses, material goods. At the beginning, she refuses to partake in the buffet with her parents. She continually refuses the gold No-Face produces, and she insists on returning the magic Haku stole from Yubaba’s sister. Chihiro is always juxtaposed against the other characters of the film – whenever someone is doing something wrong, Chihiro always steps in and does the right thing. She recognizes that no good can come from an excess of anything- from having too much food, too much gold, and possessing that which belongs to someone else. I read Emmitt’s post and he did a good job of highlighting the concept of materialism in the movie, which I think is an important lesson one may glean from the story. Having too much will do more harm than good.
In addition, like most fairy tales and animated children’s films, the theme of love and friendship is prevalent in the movie. It does not gag us with dripping sweetness but gently reminds us that love/friendship is the strongest kind of magic that exists, able to protect us from harm. Haku’s friendship and guardianship protects Chihiro from the evil clutches of the witch Yubaba and protects her parents in turn. Her friendship helps to free the bounds of servitude placed on him by the witch- by rescuing him in his dragon form and by helping him to remember his name.
I really enjoyed watching the film because I think it went places not typical of most animated films. Perhaps having grown up with so many Disney films, I have a certain expectation of where the story will go in an animated film. In Spirited Away, however, I was completely blind as to where the story would take Chihiro and always anxious for her. I think that’s part of what’s great about the film is that it is not predictable- not that obvious plot line that a children’s movie might usually take.