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With: (voices) Claire Danes, Billy Crudup, Minnie Driver, Gillian Anderson, Jada Pinkett, Billy Bob Thornton
Written by: Hayao Miyazaki
Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for images of violence and gore
Running Time: 134
Date: 12/07/1997

Princess Mononoke (1999)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Wolf Girl

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Buy Princess Mononoke on DVD

Princess Mononoke is a terrific new animated movie -- a milestone -- and I am officially recommending it. But parents should think twice before taking young children to see it. Many kids will probably love it, but this PG-13 rated film has mature themes and contains quite a bit of graphic gore.

Princess Mononoke is very dense. It's as complicated as a real war, with illegal bargaining, greed, and cheating running underneath outward bravado and patriotism. This is an epic on the scale of Gone With the Wind (1939) or Glory (1989). This film begins with a sequence that is one of the greatest filmic achievements I've ever seen: an incredible demonic beast, a boar with hundreds of worm-like tentacles coming from everywhere on his body, attacks a remote Japanese village. Ashitaka (voiced by Billy Crudup) defeats the beast and saves his village, but he receives a wound on his arm that is believed to be a curse. He must journey to the next village to find a cure before his life ebbs away. But this village is entangled in a complex war. The combatants include: Lady Eboshi (voiced by Minnie Driver), who runs a mill that destroys the forest; the forest gods, who are trying to stop her; Princess Mononoke (voiced by Claire Danes), a human who has been raised by wolves and is on the side of the forest gods; and a monk named Jigo (voiced by Billy Bob Thornton), who seems to be both friend and enemy to Lady Eboshi. Other voices are provided by Jada Pinkett and Gillian Anderson.

Princess Mononoke is the latest film by the great Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki, who also made My Neighbor Totoro (1988, released here in 1993) and Kiki's Delivery Service (1989). Miyazaki is already a hero to most major animators and film buffs in America, and now Disney has bought the rights to his films and is releasing them in dubbed English versions, making them available to everyone. Ordinarily, dubbing isn't even an option in my book, but Disney and Miramax have done a great job, and the voices are nearly seamless. (The English screenplay was written by Neil Gaiman and local animation director Jack Fletcher, who also directed the voice talent.)

Princess Mononoke is perhaps Miyazaki's most accomplished work. It definitely struck a chord in Japan where it is the all-time box-office champion, second only to Titanic (1997). And, along with The Iron Giant and South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, it shatters the decades-old American definition of animation. From now on, animation can be for adults as well as kids. See Princess Mononoke in the theater and allow yourself to be blown away. With luck and common sense, it will also be released on a DVD that will allow viewers to watch it again and again in both dubbed and subtitled versions as we choose.

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