The FEB. 22 appearance of three more films from the backlist of Hayao Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli produced mixed feelings in this fanboy's bosom. It's great that these movies are finally available to the subtitle-impaired, so that they can finally be forced to admit that these are among the greatest animated films ever made. But by the same token, now that they are accessible to any Tom, Dick, and Harry, part of their preciousness to the fanboy can't help but evaporate.
Well, at least our beloved films are getting their wide release in a form that does them credit. Disney's adaptors have learned a lot about matching voices to characters and getting effective performances from the talent since the wooden work they did on Kiki's Delivery Service and even Princess Mononoke. I suspect we may owe that to writers Cindy Davis Hewitt and Donald Hewitt, whose English versions of these films are brilliant enough to inspire the voice talents (everybody from Anne Hathaway to Michael Keaton and Tim Curry) to exceptional empathy for the characters they "play."
The Cat Returns (2002) is minor Ghibli, which means major by any other studio's standard. Miyazaki commissioned a kind of sequel from the author of earlier Ghibli masterpiece Whisper of the Heart, then gave it to one of the younger generation of studio animators as a kind of test project. Fast, funny, and tongue-in-cheek, it's fine light entertainment. Nausicaä (1984) was the film that certified Miyazaki as an auteur of grown-up-themed anime. I've never been able to warm to its heavy-handed eco-friendliness and cardboard characters, but the out-of-whack world created—half howling desert, half poisonous jungle—doesn't fade in memory. Porco Rosso (1992) . . . I confess I'm not rational about this film; a lighter-than-helium romance-farce about an ex–WWI flying ace turned into a pig as stylish and sardonic as Casablanca's Rick, it's Miyazaki's most purely personal film.
EARLIER IN MARCH, Ladder 49 debuted, with John Travolta and Joaquin Phoenix, and the 1986 Gene Hackman basketball drama, Hoosiers, arrived on DVD, as did Stage Beauty, starringClare Danes and Billy Crudup. On disc March 22, the Turkish film Distant has art-house appeal; Finding Neverland features Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet, and Julie Christie; and Fat Albert . . . well, enough said about that. Bridget Jones 2 offers various extras.