Movie: Spirited Away

Our Rating: 4.00

"Princess Mononoke" director Hayao Miyazaki ratchets up the whimsy with "Spirited Away," a delightfully loopy anime feature about a whiny Japanese kid (voice of Daveigh Chase) who follows a dark tunnel into a hidden world. What does she find there? A bathhouse populated and patronized by all manner of supernatural creatures, including a team of disembodied heads that bounce around like second-level obstacles in a game of Castlevania. Persuaded into servitude, the overwhelmed young Chihiro must run baths for the spirits while she seeks a means of escape for herself and her parents, who have been turned into pigs and imprisoned in a nearby sty. (This is not an inapt punishment for Chihiro's father, depicted in the movie as comedically beguiled by the power of cash, credit cards and four-wheel drive.) That the story sometimes makes not a lick of sense is among its virtues, imparting as it does the exhilarating feeling that anything can happen, including the metamorphosis of a boy into a dragon and the arrival of a so-called "stink spirit" that turns out to be something a little less, well, stinky. At 125 minutes, "Spirited Away" is a little too long for its medium to support. But with a pack of sentient soot balls among its creature comforts, who's complaining?