Spirited Away (IMDB) (Netflix)
The latest animated feature (or as aficionados of the genre say, anime) from the "Japanese Walt Disney," Hayao Miyazaki, who also wrote and directed Princess Mononoke. Our protagonist is Chihiro, a timid and slightly spoiled 10-year-old who becomes trapped in a spirit world of anthropomorphized frogs, radishes and assorted tubers. Her parents are stuck in this same world, but they've been transformed into pigs, and desperately need saving before they become breakfast bacon. With a little help from the friends Chihiro makes along the way, she transforms into a plucky "you go girl" hero and it's no surprise that everything turns out just fine at the end.
The animation is spectacular (it's difficult to tell if the digital projection in the theater contributed to the quality) and the level of creativity far exceeds what you'd see in any American animated feature. On the other hand, it's clearly a children's movie, with plenty of made-up-on-the-spot logic and personality shifts (reminiscent of a lucid dream state) that kids will let slide and grown-ups might find tiresome. It's also a bit long for an animated feature at 124 minutes, but judging from the army of animators listed in the credits, that may be an effort by the Japanese government to boost the employment rate. Some great messages about conquering one's fears and fulfilling your responsibility to others that parents will appreciate.