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If You’re a Disney Fan, You Need to Watch Studio Ghibli Movies

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Mt Holyoke chapter.

Disney and Studio Ghibli: the two studio loves of my life. That’s mostly because I have the taste of a six-year-old when it comes to movies (I’ve watched Zootopia six times, and cried every time), but I firmly believe these two film studios can be appreciated regardless of your age, and their messages are universal.

Studio Ghibli is a Japanese film studio founded in 1985 which produces animated films. Its most famous film is Spirited Away, which follows a little girl named Chihiro who sees her parents magically turned into pigs and is forced to work for a witch to save them. However, Ghibli is also quite famous for a handful of other films in the West, including the same-name adaptation of Diana Wynne-Jones’s novel Howl’s Moving Castle and a family-friendly movie called My Neighbor Totoro, featuring the title fluffy, adorable creature that’s become an icon in much of Asia:

If you like Disney, I’m confident you’ll enjoy Studio Ghibli films, and here’s some reasons why. (If you’re more interested in the family-friendly aspect, most Ghibli movies are good to go, but I highly recommend against starting with films intended for older audiences like Princess Mononoke.)

Like many modern Disney films, it does a great job of featuring empowered female heroines.

My favorite Ghibli heroine is definitely Nausicaa from Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. In the film, the world is consumed by forests gone wild which are turning toxic thanks to humanity’s pollution, and Nausicaa both works to save her people and protect the environment.

Even younger than Nausicaa, who’s still only sixteen when she pulls that all off, there’s the thirteen-year-old witch Kiki from Kiki’s Delivery Service. Kiki is an adventurous young witch who leaves home for a year and decides to set up her own delivery service, using her flying broomstick as transportation.

It has absolutely beautiful animation.

I love animated movies so much, and Studio Ghibli has pioneered a lot of cool (and incredibly labor-intensive) animation techniques. Here’s some particularly captivating stills:

My Neighbor Totoro — This entire film makes me want to spend my day sleeping peacefully in huge lush trees that magically grow overnight (yes, that happens).

Nausicaa of the Valley — Look at the (slightly terrifying) detail on the insect at the left. Also, the colors express the scene’s mood so well!

The Tale of Princess Kaguya — As you can see, this film is drawn in calligraphic watercolor style. It’s the most expensive Japanese film ever made.

Rather than focusing exclusively on action or romance, it focuses on important themes like growing up, feminism, or the tragedy of war.

People often comment how calming and thoughtful Studio Ghibli films are. I’ll present this tweet because it expresses my thoughts perfectly:

I can’t imagine Disney ever producing a film like Grave of the Fireflies, a film about two siblings trying to survive during World War II. I won’t spoil it, but Fireflies has a reputation as an incredibly sad film that, unlike many Disney or Ghibli films, seems pretty hopeless. However, Ghibli always remains thoughtful, focusing on sympathetic characters and a world that the audience can care about rather than merely entertain themselves with. I appreciate that Studio Ghibli will tell those stories, and I believe Disney fans can enjoy them too.

If you’ve never watched Studio Ghibli before, here’s my quick “where to start” guide:

  • kid-friendly, cute, not too heavy: Kiki’s Delivery Service, Ponyo, The Cat Returns, My Neighbor Totoro

  • weird, funny: Porco Rosso

  • darker/edgier: Princess Mononoke, Grave of the Fireflies

  • fantasy, “epic journey” sort of feel: Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, Nausicaa of the Valley

  • artsy, calming: The Tale of Princess Kaguya

  • not as artsy (sorry), but still calming: Whisper of the Heart

If I haven’t listed a Studio Ghibli film here, it’s because I haven’t watched it, sorry! Speaking of which: both my best friend and significant other refuse to watch Princess Mononoke with me. I’ve never gotten a chance to do so because of that, so if you’d like to watch it with me, hit me up!


Images: X X X X X X

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Caroline Mao

Mt Holyoke '22

She/her or they/them, class of 2022, Mount Holyoke prospective studio art and computer science major who enjoys reading and petting dogs.
Mount Holyoke College is a gender-inclusive, historically women's college in South Hadley, MA.