The Beauty of Children’s Entertainment

Hayao Miyazaki (79) is the co-founder of Japanese animation studio, Studio Ghibli. He wrote and directed hallmark features including Castle in the Sky, Ponyo and won the Academy Award for best animated feature in 2001 for Spirited Away. His work is enchanting and imaginative – some of the most revered animation in the world. I didn’t really know any of this until I was a freshman in college.
Growing up, we did not watch the studio Ghibli movies – except, strangely enough, Castle in the Sky. That is the only Ghibli film I’d ever seen before watching My Neighbor Totoro just last week. I was skeptical when sitting down to watch Totoro. I have never been a fan of anime, and I assumed this would be no different – but I found myself immediately enchanted by Miyazaki’s directing and animation. The world was peaceful and serene, moving slowly from scene to scene, beat to beat. Much slower than most animated features I’ve seen before.

We are used to children’s entertainment being as loud, colorful and flashy as possible. The result is often garish and unenjoyable for most older than the target demographic. It seemed the opposite for My Neighbor Totoro, though, and I was shocked to hear that the film had been a childhood favorite of the friend I watched it with.
Thinking back to my childhood movie taste, I don’t know if I’d have liked the movie then – I can say for certain that I appreciated the craft and care Miyazaki put into the film much more watching for the first time at 20 than I would have at 10. All the things that likely would have bored me in my youth were my absolute favorite elements today, the exact things that make me want to explore more of the Studio Ghibli canon.

It was that realization that sparked a revelation: a majority of the work I love and find the most impactful and inspirational was originally created for a younger audience. The Harry Potter series, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Calvin and Hobbes, Ratatouille, Peter and the Starcatchers, Little Women – and now Studio Ghibli. Whether I discovered it in childhood or adulthood, I continue to find beauty in works for children.

All of these works do something in common: they press into themes and ideas and plot points that are not generally found in children’s entertainment, that push the viewer or reader outside of their comfort zone. Harry Potter is a series that can be seen as considerably darker than many other children’s novels – JK Rowling forced her young readers to develop and grow through reading her stories, right alongside Harry, Ron and Hermione. And growing up, each time a reader goes back, they may discover or understand more and more of the story as they see deeper and deeper into the narratives and ideas that JK sewed throughout this “children’s” series. The books appeal to everyone, because they force everyone – children and adults alike – to grow alongside the characters in the story, facing the same challenges and obstacles.

Fantastic Mr. Fox, a brilliant children’s film by writer / director Wes Anderson has the spectacle, goofiness and scale of a traditional children’s animation, but at the same time it deals with incredibly human and adult themes of honesty, occupation, parenthood and relationships. Not only that, but it juxtaposes a childish world of talking animals and cookey farmers with the realism of a genuine world – with a badger’s real estate office, an invented sport and inter-race relations. Anderson, like all the best animation directors, laces things throughout his movie that children just won’t understand when they’re younger – but these things make for an even better experience for the child as they grow up re-watching the movie, understanding and growing more with every return.

So far as I’ve seen, Hayao Miyazaki does the same thing with his films – and I can’t wait to watch more. I’ll let you know how I like them when I do.

“The concept of portraying evil and then destroying it – I know this is considered mainstream, but I think it is rotten. This idea that whenever something evil happens someone particular can be blamed and punished for it, in life and in politics is hopeless.”
― Hayao Miyazaki

See more Miyazaki quotes here, they are brilliant.