I will earn a commission on the amazon links on this page. Please help support my Anime addiction.
Most Saturday mornings, most parents dread the sort of cartoons their children enjoy.
I too endure “Gabby’s dollhouse”, “Cocomelon”, or “Octonauts”. However, I try to diversify what we all do together as a family. Of course, there are always the Disney classics. But above all animated movies, I want my children to enjoy Ghibli Films.
Among those unfamiliar with the films, Studio Ghibli is a Japanese animation studio famous for titles like Spirited Away or Howl’s Moving Castle. Together with veteran Director Hayao Miyazaki, they have been creating fantastical, dream like works of art for decades (they founded Studio Ghibli in 1985).
Director Hayao Miyazaki creates characters and worlds that have influenced the anime industry to be what it is today.
I want my children to have a deep sense of wonder, strength, and a love for all people and animals.
These are just some qualities children can learn from these films.
One of my favourite aspects of some Ghibli films is the strong female characters.
From a lost little girl spirited away, courageously working to save herself and parents. Or a young woman adopted by a wolf god, becoming a warrior to save her forest and way of life. These characters are powerful, independent, and intelligent.
I want my little girl to feel empowered and confident to do anything. I also want this for my son too, but they also teach him to respect women and that women are every bit as capable as men.
Often North American animation downplays the intelligence of young children with simple, repetitive, predictable stories and mediocre artwork.
Stories should challenge children that make them ask tough questions; hopefully they cherish these stories and art their entire lives (I know I have).
For very young children ages 0-4, I recommend starting with these titles:
For Children 4 and older:
Some films have darker themes that may scare young children, so perhaps watch them first without them. Now a few have even more mature themes and violence, but I still believe they are invaluable and great for kids and adults.
Below are some titles that are a bit more enjoyable for adults:
Porco Rosso –
An amazing film about a WWI veteran sea plane pilot cursed with the face of a pig, turned bounty hunter out for sea plane pirates in the Adriatic.
The film has some violence and mentions Porco being a womanizer, but I think this is to play at the times it’s portraying. Lots of the main female characters also seem driven to overcome the sexism and oppression in comical success.
The artwork is beautiful and has an elegant, relaxing feel to it, yet still playful and comically childish, akin to shows like Tintin or it somehow reminds me of the old Pop-Eye cartoons. Overall, it has that dream like feel to it, and that dream is taking a trip through the late 1920s Italy, beautifully crafted by animation.
Princess Mononoke –
Another, and one of my favorites, is Princess Mononoke. This film is about a girl adopted by a Wolf God and a boy seeking these forest gods to cure a curse left behind by a demon attacking his village.
A story almost ripped straight from Japanese mythology they set this story in the late Muromachi period of Japan (about 1336 to 1573 CE). The film is about nature’s struggle against human industrialization.
With samurai battles, demons, and ultra violent scenes it’s hard to believe this is still the same studio that made My Neighbor Totoro. That being said, this one maybe just for older kids and adults. A fun tidbit about the English script, they originally meant Quentin Tarantino to write the English version but recommend Neil Gaiman in the end.
Grave of the Fireflies –
One last film I’ll mention is “Grave of the Fireflies”. They released this film alongside “My Neighbor Totoro” in Japan back in 1988. However, this second film in not for kids and is a stark contrast to “Totoro“.
Highlighting the horrors and struggles of the Japanese citizens of Kobe city during the second World War, in which allied forces conducted air raids over Japan. This is an emotionally hard movie to watch, but an important film and considered one of the greatest war films of all time by many.
The story follows a boy and his young sister fighting to survive after they lose their mother in a firebombing. Although an animated movie, its very real themes make it come to life. It will give you a deeper respect for Japanese Animation as an art and media.
Use these movies as an entire point for richer art and story for your children or to discuss more difficult topics with your children, like death and war. Or simply just enjoy some of the greatest animated films in history.