Safe and slight compared to most animated features from Hayao Miyazaki, Kiki’s Delivery Service still has plentiful charms, the title character among them. Kiki is a young witch who leaves her parents in the opening scenes to find a city she can serve. The one she chooses – a bustling seaside locale with hints of an Italian village – is indifferent to her presence, at least until a few small acts of kindness eventually win them over.
Kiki isn’t the most accomplished of fliers, as we see in the opening moments when she knocks about among the trees while leaving home on her broom. Once in the air, however, her talking cat Jiji flips on the transistor radio hanging from the broom handle. The music kicks in, and they’re off. So is the movie.
Like much of Miyazaki, Kiki’s Delivery Service is a visual swoon over the delights of flight. And it’s not only in the breathless sequences of Kiki on her broom. In her new town, she meets a boy who dreams of building his own flying contraptions. Meanwhile, a gigantic dirigible is docked along the seashore. The latter features in a climax that manages to be both intimate and viscerally thrilling.
If there aren’t as many layers to Kiki’s Delivery Service as there are to, say, Princess Mononoke or The Wind Rises, that doesn’t necessarily mean the movie is lacking. It’s a small tale, told in patient, painterly strokes. Not every Miyazaki movie has to be a masterpiece.