Fact: Disney have yet to win the Best Animated Feature Oscar. DreamWorks nabbed 2002's gong with Shrek, and 2003's award went to this catchily titled Japanese 'toon-feature, Sen To Chihiro No Kamikakushi. Or, to use its more familiar English translation, Spirited Away.
Not bad for a movie that contains no CG show-offery, no catchy songs, hardly any adult-pleasing wisecracks and not a single European fairytale reference for Westerners to latch on to. Writer/director Hayao Miyazaki may have handed English translation duties over to Pixar honcho John Lasseter, and the dubbing is certainly spot on, but Spirited Away will still feel almost extra-terrestrially bizarre to a mainstream Brit audience.
But don't be put off - after being spoonfed Mouse-House-flavoured magic throughout our formative years, Spirited Away will come as a Force-10 gale of fresh air. It concerns a stubborn 10-year-old girl named Chihiro who discovers the entrance to a strange ghost world. Once inside, she's forced to take a job as a cleaner in a magnificent bath house, whose proprietor is a witch named Yubaba and whose patrons are gods, demons and nature-spirits...
Describing Spirited Away as surreal would be something of an understatement. The animation is so fluid and organic, the character design so colourful and twisted, the dreamlike atmosphere so all-consuming - you'll wonder if you didn't hallucinate half of it. But it's far more than weird-out fantasising: Miyazaki's characters glow with humanity and Chihiro's journey from whining brat to child-hero effortlessly hooks your empathy.
We could have lived without the piano-lounge score, and the plot sprawls a little too randomly before it progresses. Yet there's no denying Spirited Away's power to connect you to a totally new and unfamiliar mythology, to energise your heart and subconscious. Die-hard Japanimation fans will hardly treat this as breaking news. But everyone else should definitely hold the front page.