Since too many people have said I'm being too uptight, I'll post a review I wrote elsewhere of Miyazaki's Spirited Away. For those of you not familiar with Studio Ghibli, they've produced a particularly wonderful set of Japanese animated stories, the most popular of which is probably Kiki's Delivery Service. The review's below:
The most recently-released film by Miyazaki Hayao, Spirited Away (or Sen to Chihiro Kamikakushi in Japanese) is distributed in the U.S. by Walt Disney Home Video. What a shame Disney had to go to Japan to get something so stunningly classical in Disney format. If Mulan and Lilo and Stitch drove you up the wall for their sheer political didacticism, you should see this film. It's like a return to the roots of children's animation.
In a nutshell, Chihiro is a young girl who finds herself in a kind of Japanese fairyland, in which her parents are imprisoned and transformed into pigs for an unseemly greed. It has all the classical features of such a fairy world, including strange but binding rules and promises, a hatred of humans (we stink, apparently), and deities that are not always what they seem. In order to survive, she binds herself into servitude to the witch who runs this portion of the world, the propreitoress of a bathhouse whose clientele are eight million gods all needing relaxation. In doing so, she gives up her original name in exchange for another.
Perhaps it seems strange that I mentioned a lack of political didacticism as a reason to see the film, but besides the beauty of the artwork and the skill with which the story progresses, the fairy-tale lessons put forward in the story make it stand out markedly in comparison to most Disney fare. Instead of a Beauty and the Beast raped of its original meaning and made to carry water for a tepid neo-feminism, or a Mulan that dresses Confucianism in equal-rights rags, in other words instead of perfectly good stories made to bear more than their weight in political baggage, Spirited Away concentrates on simpler lessons expressed subtly. The Chihiro who starts the movie is immature, demanding, without grace or politeness--and not listened to by her parents at all. Over the course of the story, her interactions with a strange but formal society turn her into a girl who bows when she meets strangers; who understands the importance of 'please', 'thank you', and 'I'm sorry'; and who eventually serves as an example of grace, strength, and character, respected by others.
That's not to say that the other lessons aren't important, but they can be done well or done badly. Lilo and Stich was particularly vile in this regard, with Lilo being a spoiled and intolerable child coddled by any and all around her throughout--but it fit with all of Disney's normal didacticisms. How nice to see a fairy story done differently for a change.