DVD Tuesday: Looking for more smart, emotionally resonant animation like Wall-E? Try Hayao Miyazaki's stunning Spirited Away!

As I've said in past columns, I'm not a huge fan of mainstream American animated features overall, they're too frenetic and five-second-attention-span oriented for my taste. But Pixar's Wall-E is a reminder of how richly imagined animated films can be -- and that makes me think of Hayao Miyazaki's Oscar-winning Spirited Away (2001), a fable about family and friendship whose marvelous sights, from flying dragons to traditional Japanese radish spirits, should keep the most restless child enthralled.

And at the same time, its emotional truths are sophisticated enough to engage adults -- it's a real film for the whole family, as opposed to a juvenile romp studded with in-jokes and pop-culture references designed to keep grown ups awake.

Spoiled little Chihiro doesn't want to move to a new town and dedicates herself to making the drive there a misery for her parents. The family takes a wrong turn into a forbidding forest, and then impulsively decide to explore a hillside tunnel which, to their delighted surprise, opens into a theme park modeled after a traditional Japanese village. Though the place looks abandoned, the concession stands are fully stocked, and while Chihiro explores, her parents indulge.

Chihiro runs into a slightly older boy named Haru, who warns her to get out before it gets dark, but she's never listened to anyone and isn't about to start. Come nightfall, she realizes that she's trapped and that her parents have been turned into pigs.

The theme park, it turns out, is actually part of a spirit-world spa resort run by a sorceress. Given a new name and forced to work as a maid, pampered Chihiro must find her place in a strange, frightening environment if she's going to figure out a way to rescue her parents and return to her own world.

For all the grotesque creatures and visual inventiveness, Spirited Away is about Chihiro's emotional maturation: She starts out a sulky brat and becomes a resourceful young woman who realizes she isn't the center of the universe, and that real friendship is precious and worth sacrificing for.

Miyazaki is never preachy Chihiro's growth seems completely organic. And she's a remarkably subtle character: Cute, selfish, clever, irritating, loyal, capricious and capable of more than she herself ever imagined not like an adult's idealized image of a child, but like a real little girl.

Send your movie questions to FlickChick.

See Maitland McDonagh and Ken Fox review this week's new flicks on the multiple award-winning Movie Talk vodcast.

Things to Consider:

What animated film made the most lasting impression on you?

Was it the movie itself, or also the circumstances under which you saw it?

Are there any classic animated films that you loved as a child, but which disappointed you when you resaw them as an adult?

Any that surprised you by being better than you remembered?

Previously in DVD Tuesday:

Kill Bill
Diary of the Dead
The Kingdom
Touch of Evil
Bonnie and Clyde
When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth
Michael Clayton
The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T
Shoot 'Em Up
A Mighty Wind


It's a Wonderful Life
All About Eve
Sweet Smell of Success
Daughters of Darkness
The Crazies
Blade Runner
A Simple Plan
Taxi Driver
Hot Fuzz
Ace in the Hole
Eyes Without a Face
Citizen Kane
La Jetée
Gone in 60 Seconds (1974)
Bob le Flambeur
Near Dark
Perfect Blue
Pan's Labyrinth
Les Girls
The Girl Who Knew Too Much
The Queen
Expresso Bongo
I'm Not Scared
Shocking Grindhouse Double Bill! - Scanners and The Candy Snatchers
Don't Look Now
Casino Royale
The Prestige
13 Tzameti
The Departed
Kiss and Make Up
Kiss Me Deadly
The Long Good Friday
What Alice Found
The Devil's Backbone
The Descent
The Devil Wears Prada
Pandora's Box
The Thief and the Cobbler
Panic in the Streets/Jack Palance Interview
The Pusher Trilogy
Sunset Blvd.
In Cold Blood