After seeing the first Ghibli movie that my brother brought home from college years ago… Princess Mononoke… I discovered and fell in like with a studio that I otherwise would most likely never have never known about and would have missed out on the amazing worlds and stories that could only be dreamed up one man… Hayao Miyazaki.
Film after film, I am always amazed at the world Miyazaki creates and genuinely excited to see what he does next. The studio has the ability to catch the tiniest details of a real life countryside or city, as well as creating or blending in the more magical aspects of his stories. A studio like Disney typically has has large areas of solid flat colors with little detail. Either way however, this is one of the main examples of why I love animated movies… I think it takes a lot more work to accomplish and it’s amazing what any animator ends up doing.
Along with the scenery, Studio Ghibli also challenges the typical characters that you might find in a Disney branded movie. The most prevalent themes in Miyazaki’s films are that the stories that center around young, and usually female, lead characters most of the time. This is a very bold direction to take, even if discussing live-action movies. The women are strong and independent. They also don’t follow the typical love themes that seem to pollute almost all live-action and animated films. While love is a strong theme in many Ghibli films, they are not usually the main focus of the film and are typically deeper and more complex than simple “boy meets girl” or “damsel in distress” plot lines.
People and relationships are also more deeply examined in Ghibli films. I think another defining characteristic of a Miyazaki films is that there are rarely “good guys” and “bad guys”. Instead there are usually blurred lines that define good and evil which leaves characters that ultimately just have opposing interests. Some of his films are virtually absent of fighting and focus on complexities of life. Complexities like growing old, losing a loved one, or destroying our environment. Subjects such as these are not usually the major message of Disney films. Another thing to note is that these films tackle the complicated subjects and relationships in kid centered movies. The studio recognizes that young children are smart enough to dissect the various messages in his films and decide for themselves how to feel. Miyazaki recognizes that kids can take in more than a basic prince and princess love story with a bad guy.
Speaking of plots, Ghibli films, like the relationships within them, also have much more going on. They are very creative compared to other animation studios and tackle themes/lessons that range from the importance of family, man living alongside nature, death, sickness, growing old, aren’t hidden but presented as a part of life, you can save yourself without help, believing in yourself, sometimes people leave but it’s ok, fight for what you love, war, the environment, human value, understanding other peoples culture/values, patience, young are capable, life has a lot of work, travel meet new places/things, women are more than their looks,
Miyazaki and the Ghibli studio are risk takers. The fact that it is animation and maybe more so that their characters and scenery can be a bit wild or abstract at times, seems to turn people off to great stories and characters that would much rather see a cookie cutter hero vs villain movie with the gender restrictive roles. Something that people still struggle with getting away from in the US even today. It’s a studio that still painstakingly draws out most all of their animation for the art and discipline behind it. I feel there is more work and sweat put into their films and they are creating art. That is in comparison to studio like Disney that always comes off as being driven by profit margins, consumer driven messages, and safe characters and stories with no real surprises nor stories that require any further interpretation.