September 30, 2002 12:00 PM

Animated, with voices by Suzanne Pleshette, Daveigh Chase, Susan Egan

The top-grossing movie in Japanese history, this 130-minute cartoon is richly magical, both in the emotional layers of its fairy-tale story—full of spirits and metamorphoses—and the visual inventiveness of director Hayao Miyazaki. Afterward your mind may feel like a tropical aquarium: Such strange, distractingly beautiful images keep swimming into view.

Ten-year-old Chihiro and her parents are driving to their new home when her father inadvertently detours onto an overgrown dirt road. They’re headed not for home but a bathhouse, run by a witch and built on a factory scale, where spirits—some dripping slime, some like giant chicks—refresh themselves at night. The parents turn into pigs, destined for bacon. Chihiro takes on scullery work, cleaning out tubs even Cinderella would have balked at, while planning a rescue.

Dubbed over with American actors, Spirited should be accessible to older children. At times it’s even vaguely reminiscent of The Wizard of Oz, only as if illustrated by Hieronymus Bosch. It’s wonderful. (PG)

Bottom Line: A cartoon that truly spirits you away

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