Disney just released new deluxe DVDs of four movies directed by Japanese animation legend Hayao Miyazaki.
His film Spirited Away won the 2002 Oscar for Best Animated film and Disney/Pixar animation head John Lasseter has always talked about Miyazaki with a reverence that borders on the religious.
Ponyo, Miyazaki's most recent film, and the three others in this new release (Castle in the Sky, My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki's Delivery Service) suggest that Lasseter's ringing endorsement might be a little misleading for fans of Pixar's usual output.
Where most Pixar films have a sophistication and emotional depth that appeals to adults, these movies' broad humor sometimes seems to have more in common with low-budget Saturday-morning cartoons than Wall-E or Up.
The new DVDs of the older films recycle English-language voiceovers from earlier releases, but Lasseter has radically cut down the amount of dialog. In Kiki's Delivery Service, Phil Hartman's performance as the cat Jiji originally included a lot of ad-libbed jokes that have disappeared from the new release, creating a far less frantic feel to the film. The same goes for Castle in the Sky, where large chunks of comic commentary by the sky pirates have disappeared from the movie's chase scenes. If you grew up watching the old versions of these films, you might be disappointed but the new releases seem to be more true to Miyazaki's original Japanese dialog.
Fans of Pixar animation might want to approach these with caution. If the Ponyo trailer doesn't totally turn you off, there's a lot to enjoy here.