The name Phil Hartman might not be immediately familiar to you, but you have almost certainly heard his voice before. Simpsons fans might remember him from such roles as washed-up Troy McClure or bumbling lawyer Lionel Hutz, while his stint on Saturday Night Live spawned countless iconic characters. However, anime fans likely remember Hartman for playing a smaller, more intimate role in Kiki’s Delivery Service.
When he was cast as Jiji, the titular Kiki’s wise-cracking sidekick cat, no one could have realized that it would be the last time we heard Hartman’s instantly identifiable voice in film. Less than a week after Kiki’s Delivery Service premiered in 1998, Phil Hartman was found dead in his home in Encino, California, after he was murdered by his wife.
In many ways, Jiji is the quintessential role for Hartman. Like all cats, Jiji is cocky and egotistical yet he continually supports and lifts Kiki to help her succeed. He isn’t the star of the story, nor does he give any indication that he wants to be.
Throughout his decades-long career, Phil Hartman himself seldom played the leading man. During his 8 seasons on Saturday Night Live, he was adept at playing bit parts to support other actors in skits, earning the nickname “The Glue of SNL” for being such a team player. Supporting roles suited Hartman, who was uniquely talented at making everyone around him funnier.
Watching Disney’s dub of Kiki’s Delivery Service now, twenty-five years after it was first released, highlights how talented Hartman was at making his co-stars better. His performance isn’t eye-catching or surprising but it is perfectly suited to the role. He makes the entire film better just by being there, something no one has ever done better than Phil Hartman.
Fans probably remember him better for his work on The Simpsons or for playing the smarmy, lecherous villain in films like Jingle All The Way, but it is his final recorded role of Jiji in Kiki’s Delivery Service that gives Phil Hartman a unique place in the anime industry.
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