|Directed by:||Hayao Miyazaki|
|Written by:||Neil Gaiman|
|Cast:||Claire Danes, Billy Crudup, Minnie Driver, Billy Bob Thornton, Gillian Anderson, Jada Pinkett Smith|
Simply put, PRINCESS MONONOKE is a towering achievement - not only in the world of animation, but in the world of cinema. These days, when people think of animation, they think of hokey childrens' movies with cardboard characters and plots that are easy to navigate. This is fine, because even the young ones need to be entertained, but for us adults, it tends to get a little...well, tedious.
Enter Hayao Miyazaki and his wonderful imagination. If you've seen his works, you know that Miyazaki has an incredible knack for creating wondrous stories that appeal not only to children, but to adults as well. On top of those stories, his animation is ALWAYS breathtaking to look at. My first Miyazaki experience was with SPIRITED AWAY, which happens to be one of my all-time favorite films, but it is with this film that he truly soared as a filmmaker.
For starters, the story contains no real "villains," aside from the demonic plague that seems to be spreading. There is plenty of tension among the humans and the animals, to be sure, but Miyazaki made sure to not overly villianize his characters. And speaking of characters, Ashitaka (voiced by Billy Crudup) is a fine "hero" - a young man with a kind, gentle spirit but is not afraid to do what needs to be done. He is supported by the strong-willed and occasionally fierce San (voiced by Claire Danes), a young woman who was raised by wolves and wants nothing more than to protect her home. Personally, I believe these are two of the strongest characters Miyazaki has created.
The technical aspects of this film are second-to-none. Miyazaki's animation here is some of the finest I've ever seen, which is saying quite a bit, given his impressive body of work. There were moments when I literally found myself gasping at what I was looking at, such as the sprawling landscapes or the gentle beauty of water. There is so much artistic beauty to take in here. Adding to the beautiful visuals is Joe Hisaishi's magnificent score, which remains among my favorite film scores ever.
There's a reason PRINCESS MONONOKE has been hailed as one of the best pieces of animated filmmaking of all-time. It has a strong story, engaging characters, and absolutely amazing animation. But it is also quite dark and violent at times, so it's probably best not to show this to younger children. It's movies like this that remind me just how powerful and wonderful cinema can be.