If ever there was a movie that I’d want to give someone as a imaginative example of what a young person could be doing instead of going to school, it would be “Kiki’s Delivery Service”. Kiki is a bright, sweet, energetic girl who has been raised in a small country village by her loving parents. Her mother is the resident witch, specializing in potions. Both parents support Kiki in her journey to become a witch also. The tradition is that young witches must leave their hometown during their thirteenth year and fly away to another city, where they take up residence for a year to discover their talents and complete their training as a witch.
The movie starts out with Kiki leaving. The entire community, young and old alike, turns out to see her go, showing support for her family. While there are naturally worries in everyone’s mind, they are confident that Kiki will be successful; her parents believe that it is important for their daughter to go out into the world to discover her gifts and learn independence. Her only companion is her talking cat Jiji (who is a symbol of her inner self). On her way out of town, Kiki briefly meets another young witch who has almost completed her year of training. Rather than encouraging Kiki like her friends did, this girl snubs her while snobbishly bragging of her own success. Yet Kiki does not falter in spite of this or the thunderstorm she encounters shortly afterward; she has the assurance of her positive upbringing to give her hope for the unknown future.
Kiki soon arrives at a large town on the coast, which she thinks is absolutely perfect for her training period. She loves the ocean and the excitement of the big, modern city. However, her friendly attempts to meet the citizens are shunned. She quickly realizes that the life she grew up in is much different than the culture around her now. This is a sobering first lesson. But Kiki’s kindness and respect for others ends up attracting the attention of a compassionate couple who run a bakery. They offer her a place to stay in exchange for helping them run the shop, as the wife is expecting their first baby.
Because she flies on a broom, Kiki decides to start a delivery service while she also works at the bakery. It is clear from her actions that Kiki has already learned (from her mother, most likely) many important skills already; she can clean, sew, cook, do math, interact with adults, organize plans, think logically, follow maps, take care of herself, and many other things. As she begins her business, however, she finds that she has a lot more to learn besides just entrepreneurship. A few of her lessons are: Supporting Yourself Financially, How to Deal with Unpleasant People, Creative Problem-Solving When Everything Goes Wrong, and New Friends 101.
This last lesson was one of the most interesting to watch. Kiki is no longer with her childhood playmates. Her awkwardness in learning how to get along with the opposite gender is something that we as the audience can sympathize with, as she begins the transition from little girl to young woman. Kiki not only has to learn how to handle a local boy who is enamored with her, but also must establish other friends, both male and female, in a place with different social rules than her rural community. Kiki is able to begin making real connections with others only when she finally relinquishes the comfort of her final emotional “shields” (her broom and her cat, Jiji).
She takes a bike ride with another young person at one point. It seems to symbolize the imaginary and real dangers young people face when they first set out into the real world. Kiki and her new friend Tombo take a roller-coaster ride on his bike through the town’s streets which ends in a crash at the beach; however, nobody is really hurt (except the bicycle) and Kiki’s reaction is relieved laughter. Wouldn’t life’s difficulties be so much easier to handle if we were able to laugh a little more at them? Just a side note that I thought of : )
Yet with these newfound adventures come changes. Kiki finds that she doesn’t understand her own feelings about Tombo or the other city teenagers he associates with. As she struggles to find her place in the world, her waning confidence is further diminished by the discovery that she cannot hear Jiji speak anymore, her broom is broken, AND her witch’s powers have gone missing. She feels lost and alone at this uncertain stage of her journey.
Devastated by the turn of events, Kiki accepts an invitation to visit a woman she met earlier. The woman is a young artist who lives in the woods and devotes her time to her passion of creating art. By taking Kiki under her wing, the woman-artist teaches her that though growing up is a hard thing to do, everyone is able to find who they are if they are able to “trust their spirit” and find their innate talents. Her mentorship of Kiki helps the young witch understand that she should never give up, even when times get hard, and that she should seek to rediscover her purpose. Also, the woman-artist shows Kiki that even though one must grow in maturity doesn’t mean that you can’t still be young at heart!
Kiki returns to the city still unsure of what exactly she is supposed to do, but resolute in her determination to discover somehow who she is meant to be. A sudden crisis forces her to take action and search deep within herself to save her new friend Tombo from a terrible accident. It is a sink or swim moment… and Kiki flies.
In the end, she regains her powers as a witch, gets another broom, develops a new relationship with Jiji (symbolizing her newly mature inner self), finds true friendship with many people in the city, establishes a successful delivery service, and learns how to be herself no matter what. Through her hard work, respect for others, and confidence, Kiki is an example of what young people are capable of accomplishing when they are given the upbringing, resources, mentors, and freedom to explore life.
Oh, and school was never mentioned.