It turns out that boundless optimism, honesty, and one shapeless black dress are all anyone needs to get ahead in the world. Kiki’s Delivery Service may not be an accurate depiction of life, but sometimes you need a little joy and optimism. Lesson #1 to Kiki’s Delivery Service‘s world view: saying “Sir” or “Mam” will make surprised locals throw money at you. Lesson #2: if she rejects you, ignores you, and gives you a verbal indication that she wants to be left alone, just keep asking her out. It’s cute because they’re kids. Lesson #3: a gratifying and hard-earned life can be completely ruined by one ungrateful snob. Kiki’s Delivery Service brings us a fantasy world that we all wished was real. It’s a place where the forest meets the sea, every house has a secret garden, and the resident witch is a starry-eyed novice.
It is tradition that when a witch turns 13 she leaves home to fulfill a mandatory year of training. Kiki (voiced by Minami Takayama) is itching to go. So much so, in fact, that she totally blows off the camping trip she planned with her father and crushes his dreams in a record-breaking half-second. And just like that, Kiki leaves the nest. With little more than a “Good luck, don’t die” from her family, Kiki mounts her broomstick and zooms towards her future with a single dress, a radio, and her cat, Jiji (voiced by Rei Sakuma), who is more sarcastic than Willy Wonka and about as negative as Kylo Ren. Kiki picks a random city by the ocean and lands with the unwavering optimism of a sheltered child from a kinder, gentler time. The people in this city are normal people: mildly polite, a little reserved, and flabbergasted by this child on a broomstick. With no plan, no connections, and a bag of pennies, Kiki wanders the streets until God sends her a pregnant baker with a rush job. Kiki runs the delivery and is paid by the grateful baker with a rent-free room, daily breakfasts, part-time hours in the bakery, and a home base for her new delivery service. Life can sure change in a blink if you mind your Pleases and Thank Yous.
While most witches flaunt a specific skill like fortune-telling or potion-making, Kiki’s only discernible talent is flying – and she’s not winning any points for accuracy. Delivery work, then, feels like the obvious fit. It’s just odd luck that Kiki picks a city that hasn’t seen witches in three generations. Unsurprisingly, she catches the immediate attention of Tombo (voiced by Kappei Yamaguchi), the most charismatic boy in the city who simply will not leave Kiki alone. For a kid dressed like Where’s Waldo, he sure tries his best to get this girl’s attention.
Tombo, like most of the characters in Kiki’s life, is a hopeless optimist and a grand part of what makes Kiki’s Delivery Service so cute. But it’s not all laughs and cuddles; Kiki hits a wall like many of us do. The main difference is where I reach for Netflix and wine, Kiki welcomes the wisdom of a random hermit/artist/crow-speaker she meets in the woods. To each their own. Kiki is a determined young lady and isn’t likely to let a funk get in her way, especially when the random woodland stranger offers such good life coaching. Kiki stresses honesty over everything else, and is eager to do extra chores around a customer’s house if she feels they have overpaid for her service. All of these acts of simple kindness add up to a “Nice young lady” with the determination and youthful enthusiasm of a buckshot.
This 1989 film brings to life the joviality of Miyazaki’s filmography, with a quaint city nestled between countryside and glistening ocean. Some of the characters are total brats, but their nastiness makes Kiki and her overly grateful, high on life allies shine as brighter beacons of positivity. Even the talking cat eventually sees the light and drops the sass. When Kiki faces her mid-teenage crisis it’s these characters who help her through, not by telling her what to do or how to do it, but by giving her the space she needs to figure out what motivates her.
Kiki’s Delivery Service is a reminder that kids don’t have to have life figured out at 13; they just have to follow their passion. And passions can change. Kiki is a hopeful little girl who minds her manners and accepts offerings from strangers – but thanks to the magic of animation, it all works out in the end. Kiki surrounds herself with inspiring company, her stalker finally gets a date, and her parents are blissfully unaware of Kiki’s many traffic violations. Kiki’s Delivery Service takes a courageous, motivated young lady and gives her everything she needs to succeed in business except a purpose. That part is up to Kiki to figure out and decide how much it means to her overall happiness. Kiki’s Delivery Service is cute and whimsically innocent. It’s a feel-good 7/10.