Spirit of Wonder: The Movie
Spirit of Wonder: Everyone knows it's Windy
Emru Townsend · August 27, 2003 | In late-1950s Bristol, three old men (named Cooper, Gordon, and Shepherd, possibly in homage to several astronauts) make up the Scientific Boys Club, who have dreamed of flying to Mars since they were children. Gordon's brilliant and beautiful daughter Windy finds herself swept up in their quest when her husband Jack falls in with them—and more so when her book theorizing the existence of ether becomes the basis for their attempt to build a ship to take them to the red planet.

With a languid pace that has the camera focusing on the English countryside as much as the five main characters, Spirit of Wonder is a tall tale woven with the threads of two love stories: the strong yet understated love between Windy and Jack, and the Boys Club's blinding passion for their dream.

Spirit of Wonder is based on Kenji Tsuruta's manga serial of the same name, and the two-part film is bracketed by two shorts featuring a favourite manga character, Miss China. (She also makes a few appearances in the Spirit of Wonder story.) A busty young Chinese woman who runs the local inn, Miss China is often sweet, sometimes brash, and always willing to put her mastery of martial arts to use if someone crosses the line. The first short, Shrinking Miss China, has her accidentally getting zapped by a shrink ray constructed by the (mad?) scientist Breckenridge and her boyfriend Jim. The second, Planet of Miss China, concerns another Breckenridge experiment involving Mars. While both shorts are goofy fun, they also take time out to indulge in melancholy—both times, involving the seemingly unflappable Miss China.

(One thing I found interesting: Science fiction and anime are often accused of generally catering to boys; Spirit of Wonder slyly asserts that boys' dreams are impossible to achieve without women—very, very patient women, tough women, or both.)

Spirit of Wonder: The Movie
Bandai Entertainment, 2001
Directed by Hongo Mitsuru
97 minutes

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It's probably a coincidence that this DVD is being released a week after Mars makes its closest approach to Earth in millennia; however, it's more significant that it comes on the heels of DreamWorks' announcement that they're pulling out of the traditional animation game, part of an overall American trend that considers it a dead medium. Spirit of Wonder shows that the problem isn't the medium itself; it's that the American market has yet to tap the wellspring of fresh ideas that produced Miss China and the Scientific Boys Club.

DVD Extras: Art gallery, interviews, Miss China mini-poster.
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