Friday, December 30, 2011

Studio Ghibli: Kid-Approved Movies for a Night In

Just before the recent Christmas holiday, Jennifer at sent out a list of “Epic Nerd-Approved Movies for Kids.” It concluded a longer list of overall Nerd-Approved Movies (scroll to the bottom of their list for the kids movies). It included (in my opinion) some great movies like The Goonies, The Secret of Nimh, The Witches, and The Dark Crystal. It also included some questionable cinematic ventures like Mac and Me and Titan AE.

It left out all of the Hayao Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli movies that are my family’s favorites.

I’m the worst when it comes to “kid appropriate.” My rating system involves my guessing at what will and will not give my children nightmares.

I’ve already written about the time I read my eldest Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. But there is also the time my eldest and I watched Toby Maguire’s Spider-man. He might have been three. I didn’t see the harm. I was comfortable with the level of violence and there was no sexually suggestive nudity. The movie quickly became his favorite and he asked to watch it repeatedly.

Then one time, during one of the viewings he screamed for me to turn it off. But it wasn’t the depiction of the Green Goblin or the fighting that suddenly scared him – It was too early in the movie. The scene that frightened him despite his seeing it several times before was the scene where Peter is bitten by the spider! Somewhere between this current viewing and the last time he saw the movie, he became afraid of spider bites.

He can watch the entire Spider-man movie now but the incident has left me fearful. I have become acutely sensitive to every gasp and jerk he and his brother make when they watch a movie.

To be fair, Jennifer did include Princess Mononoke on her overall Nerd-Approved list. She put it in the “A Flair for the Dramatic” along with some of my favorite movies (Gattaca, The Man Who Fell to Earth, and Donnie Darko). I don’t know why Mac and Me beat out Kiki’s Delivery Service or Spirited Away for a spot on her Kids list.

I bought the Studio Ghibli Movie Collection on Ebay several years ago after watching Turner Classic Movies festival of Hayao Miyazaki movies. They showed both dubbed and subtitled versions of my favorite Studio Ghibli films like My Neighbor Tortoro -- my youngest used to refer to this as the “girl gòhgō (big brother)and me” movie -- Princess Mononoke -- my eldest calls this the “Bloody Movie” -- and Laputa: Castle in the Sky – my eldest says this is his favorite movie. The festival also introduced me to Pom Poko and Porco Rosso.

When the kids can’t decide which movie to watch, I tell them, “We’re watching Pom Poko.” They’ll whine about how they didn’t get their choice but 10 minutes into the movie – slack-jawed silence. They are enthralled by the antics and the chanting of the cutely drawn raccoons and are soon spellbound watching the raccoons fight the humans to maintain their land and fight among themselves to determine how to best fight the humans to protect their land. The movie is comic enough to make its message of conservation and environmentalism, mild violence, and raccoon “pouches” (testicles) that some found overbearing or outright offensive, kid appropriate.

Wikipedia provides a detailed summary of the story.

Pom Poko is not in the Studio Ghibli Movie Collection but can be bought separately. The movies included in the Collection are:

  1. Laputa: Castle in the Sky
  2. My Neighbor Tortoro
  3. Grave of the Fireflies
  4. Princess Mononoke
  5. Spirited Away
  6. Kiki’s Delivery Service
  7. Porco Rosso

Porco Rosso is about a “cursed” pilot who leaves the Italian Air Force to become a bounty hunter. It’s never explained outright why he is cursed but the curse gives him the face of a pig (which along with pieces of dialogue might help us guess at a cause). In the summary provided at Wikipedia, his guilt from losing his best friend in battle is cited as the cause of his curse.

The kids never ask about this. They never ask why Porco Rosso is a pig among humans. They take it for granted that cartoon animals and cartoon humans coexist on the same plane on screen. The aerial battle scenes and chases are enough to bait them into watching long enough to be engaged by the movie’s emotional themes like the sense of duty in conflict with the truth of the matter.

Another testament to Hayao Miyazaki’s talent and those at Studio Ghibli is of all the DVDs and Blu Rays I’ve bought since  the Studio Ghibli Movie Collection, it continues to have the highest “re-watch value” among my family. Whether its because we’re staying in due illness or short ill-conceived holiday or simple exhaustion, when there is nothing particularly engaging on Netflix and TV, a Studio Ghibli film is a surefire way for my kids and I to pass the time.

What’s your favorite Studio Ghibli movie? What movies have a high re-watch value at your house?

[Originally posted at]

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