Blu-ray
Highly Recommended
4.5 stars
List Price
$22.43
Amazon
$19.99 (11%)
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Overall Grade
4.5 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Movie Itself
4.5 Stars
HD Video Quality
5 Stars
HD Audio Quality
4.5 Stars
Supplements
3.5 Stars
High-Def Extras
0 Stars
Bottom Line
Highly Recommended

Princess Mononoke

Street Date:
November 18th, 2014
Reviewed by:
Review Date: 1
December 10th, 2014
Movie Release Year:
1997
Studio:
Disney
Length:
133 Minutes
MPAA Rating:
PG-13
Release Country
United States

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

'Princess Mononoke' has long been considered one of Hayao Miyazaki's best films. Perhaps that's because it's one his most adult-oriented animated films (besides recently released 'The Wind Rises'). 'Mononoke' strays from the loveable qualities of 'My Neighbor Totoro,' and enters a realm where dismemberment and decapitations seem commonplace. The story is complicated too. It's a convoluted, but rich exploration into myth, legend, and the danger that comes with investigating them.

Like Miyazaki's 'Howl's Moving Castle,' 'Princess Mononoke' is a wondrous animated wonderland. A showcase of unbelievable things that would not be possible in live action. Miyazaki's animation is freeing to the point you feel like you're floating. Truly an ethereal experience as we observe an impossible world playing out, quite possibly, in front of our eyes.

It's difficult not to take into account Miyazaki's illustrious career, even when reviewing his earlier work in hindsight. His work never diminished. His visions never became less grand. He never really strayed from his roots, as he continued to create animated movies that challenged everything about modern day animation and its childish predilections.

As far as animated films go, the year 1997 saw the release of Disney's 'Hercules' – a fun, colorful, kid-centric hero movie; 'Land Before Time V: The Mysterious Island' – yes, they were still making these for whatever reason; and Don Bluth's 'Anastasia' – which ended up being one of his most Disney-esque movies as far as modern Disney animation is concerned. So, while animation was tending toward kid-only entertainment, Miyazaki's 'Princess Mononoke' did an about face. It went the opposite direction, telling a story only adults would understand and appreciate, all the while including extreme adult situations and violence. Not only that, but 'Princess Mononoke' has been regarded, in history, as one of the best animated feature films. A classic in every sense. 

Right from the outset we know that this isn't a normal movie-going experience. After the demon creature is spotted and it starts chasing after our hero Ashitaka (voiced by Billy Crudup), it's unlike anything I've ever seen in animation. The detail, it's movements, the unnatural way it undulates, it's all very disconcerting. An out-of-this-world technique mastered by Miyazaki and his animation staff. Watching that creature is horrifying and satisfying all at the same time. As animation moves inexorably towards exclusively being computer generated, we can still revisit 'Princess Mononoke' and point to this, and many other examples within the movie, that simply would not have the same horrifying effect if rendered in three dimensions.

When San (voiced by Claire Danes) is introduced, we're led into an entirely different realm of existence. The creatures populating San's forest are marvelous and terrifying. They're not animated to be approachable creatures. These are ferocious entities, with just as much tradition and custom as the humans that threaten their way of life. Yet, they find themselves entangled in a war that can only end badly.

The plot plays out like a complicated political thriller, with nature gods thrown into the mix for good measure. Rehashing the plot here is pointless, seeing that most people looking to buy this are probably already big fans. As Ashitaka maneuvers through the countryside he's met with different ideologies, ways of life, customs, and creatures. His ability to bridge the gap between differing opinions between warring nations is unique to this film. He's a political emissary, trying everything he can to avert war. He isn't just a one-note hero swinging a sword and saving the day. It's much more complicated than that. The relationships between those who are fighting, why they are fighting, and who they are fighting causes deep reflection. It asks a lot of the viewer in paying attention to what's going on. In a lot of ways it's as intricate and satisfying as watching 'Game of Thrones.'

'Princess Mononoke' is truly one of Miyazaki's very best. That much is true. It's an audacious vision that never eases up. It stays true to itself, never wavering, and in the end produces one of the most thought-provoking, mind-freeing animated films ever created.

The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats

'Princess Mononoke' comes to Blu-ray with a 50GB Blu-ray, and a DVD copy of the film. They're packaged in a standard Blu-ray keepcase, which is wrapped in a standard blue Studio Ghibli/Disney slipcover.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

Like every Studio Ghibli film Disney has brought to Blu-ray, 'Princess Mononoke' looks the best it ever has. Disney has provided a faithful, beautiful presentation for this animated classic. It's easy to see that they took their time, and didn't rush. The result is a transfer that showcases Miyazaki's splendid artwork as well as it possibly could.

The detail of the animation is top-notch. There are some soft spots, but it's better they be left alone rather than tinkering with the whole transfer to try and correct them. Every frame looks natural, referencing the time it was animated. However, the transfer is free from any sort of source gunk like dust or debris. Lines are solid. It's amazing how superb the animation quality is here. I'm still awe about how great the demon at the beginning of the film looks in high-def. All those independently wiggling tentacles. All black and gray, and all of them as visible as the next.

Color is always bright and vivid. There's never a point where color doesn't play an extremely important part in the animation. Everything from primary to secondary colors are presented with care, and given the vividness they deserve. There isn't anything in the way of blocking (which, again, was mildly surprising seeing that the erratic movements of the demon's wormlike structure could've easily caused visual problems). Aliasing and banding are non-existent too, which for an animated feature is particularly impressive. Banding can be, and has been a problem when transferring older animated features to Blu-ray. In short, fans should be confident that they're getting an authentic high-def transfer of the film they've loved all these years. It's really great seeing this movie look this good.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

The English dub is what it is. Many find fault with the so-called "dubtitles," which mirror the English dub instead of using the correct subtitles released on DVD in 2000. It's understandable if this is a dealbreaker for you. Disney should have included the subtitles from the 2000 DVD release, instead of reverting back to the dubtitles, which have caused endless problems among faithful fans.  But, when reviewing the actual sound coming out of the speakers, we've got to forget that for a moment. With that aside, 'Princess Mononoke' is given a wondrously satisfying DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix which makes the movie feel more alive than it ever has before. Lossless mixes are provided for both Japanese and English tracks.

The dialogue is clear and centered up front. The English actors providing the dubbed version of the film do seem a little lackadaisical time from time, offering up voice acting that seems a little too subdued given the movie's context. However, the dialogue is always intelligible, whether you're listening to the English or Japanese track.

There are some good, engaging ambient sounds coming from the rear speakers. When war finally comes the soundfield really cranks up, giving you a very like-you're-there type of feeling. With such deep, sustained LFE usage, 'Princess Mononoke' has very little to complain about in the audio department. As a matter of fact, there's no picking of nits to be had. It sounds utterly superb.

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

  • Original Japanese Storyboards (HD, 133 min.) – You can watch the entirety of the movie in Japanese storyboard form. It's only presented with a Dolby Digital 2.0 track. However, this is a very unique way of viewing the movie and seeing exactly how animation evolves from storyboards to the finished product.
  • 'Princess Mononoke' in the USA (HD, 20 min.) - Miyazaki and producer Toshio Suzuki attend a couple USA-based film festivals and answer questions about the movie.
  • Featurette (SD, 5 min.) – A short promo about the notable celebrities who were hired to lend their voices to the English dub.
  • Trailers & TV Spots (HD, 28 min.) – There is an extensive collection of trailers and TV spots provided. Both Japanese and English.

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

There are no Blu-ray exclusives.

Final Thoughts

'Princess Mononoke' is one of Miyazaki's finest films for so many reasons. Its animation is glorious escapism. Its plot is necessarily complex and messy. Its characters are layered, and driven by various conflicting ideals. It's so rich in just about everything it does. With a perfect video presentation, and a faultless audio presentation (if you can get past the whole "dubtitles" thing) 'Princess Mononoke' comes highly recommended.

Technical Specs

  • Blu-ray/DVD

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 1080p/AVC MPEG-4

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • 1.85:1

Audio Formats

  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
  • French Dolby Digital 5.1
  • Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Subtitles/Captions

  • English, French

Supplements

  • Princess Mononoke in the USA - In September of 1999, Princess Mononoke's director, Hayao Miyazaki traveled to the US and Canada to promote the film's release. This feature is a record of those events
  • Jada Pinkett Smith, Claire Danes, Billy Bob Thornton, Gillian Anderson, Billy Crudup talk about acting in the English voice cast in Princess Mononoke
  • Original Japanese Storyboards
  • Trailers and TV Spots

All disc reviews at High-Def Digest are completed using the best consumer HD home theater products currently on the market. More about our gear.

Puzzled by the technical jargon in our reviews, or wondering how we assess and rate HD DVD and Blu-ray discs? Learn about our review methodology.

List Price
$22.43
Amazon
$19.99 (11%)
3rd Party
$19.99
Temporarily out of stock. Order now and we'll deliver when available. We'll e-mail you with an estimated delivery date as soon as we have more information. Your credit card will not be charged until we ship the item. Buy Now»