"Princess Mononoke," the most successful anime film in Japanese history, breaks most of the animation rules Walt Disney lived by. Hayao Miyazaki's wondrous 14th-century tale about the never-ending battle between man and nature isn't the usual bouncy and compact 75 minutes but a leisurely (though action-packed) 2¼ hours. No animals trot out their borscht-belt routines. No one bursts into song. The handsome prince and the beautiful princess don't get married. Most remarkable of all, good and evil are not conveniently packaged in separate, clearly marked containers, but spread about equally in almost every character--man, woman, beast or god. This, you see, is the thinking kid's cartoon.
Infused with a mystical animist spirit, this lyrical and often savage epic tells of a young prince who has fallen under a curse for killing a demon boar. Hoping to free himself from the lethal curse, he journeys to the forest--ruled by the magical Forest Spirit--where trees and animals are being destroyed by humans. The prince finds himself in the middle of a war between man and nature, the latter represented by gods in the form of wolves and boars. But this is no simple Nature Good/Man Bad ecological fairy tale. Everyone has his reasons, and no one has a lock on virtue. This English-language version--using the voices of Billy Crudup, Claire Danes, Billy Bob Thornton and Minnie Driver--has a few lapses into banality, but the beauty and scale of Miyazaki's vision shines through. You'll see why, in animation circles, Miyazaki himself is considered one of the gods.