Saturday, 5 May 2012

Traditional animation and my top 5 Studio Ghibli

We've all gotten used to watching animated CGI films these days. We're treated to a slew of computer animated children's films whenever the kids break up from school. Toy story 3, Madagascar 2, Ice Age 3, Kung Fu Panda 2, these films have been around long enough to have reached multiple sequels. 

Hell things had gotten to the point were Disney even closed down it's traditional animation department. Admittedly that error was corrected by John Lasseter who re-opened the department in 2009. It's amazing to think that Disney, a studio  who made their name making beautiful and well respected animated films, would shut down 2D animation.
Which brings me to why I'm writing this. Whilst watching Kung Fu Panda 2 I realised that I was entranced by the flash back scenes, which are shown as traditional animation, more than I was the rest of the film. This isn't to say I didn't like the film; some of the fight scenes are a bit samey, and it's not quite as funny as the first one but on the whole I enjoyed it. The animation is superb, every single strand of Po's fur looks lovingly created. I don't doubt the time and skill that goes into producing each and every frame. Perhaps the flash back scenes looked more vibrant intentionally, the bright and vivid colours making it more memorable. Or maybe it's just that we're so used to CGI, it was nice to see some old style animation (I know it was probably still done on computer but you see my point).

Top 5 Studio Ghibli

Even with the advancement of modern technology in recent years Studio Ghibli have stuck to crafting beautiful hand drawn animation. For over a quarter of a century the studio set up by Hayao Miyazaki and the late Isao Takahata have produced some of the best animated films in the world, with a level of quality few outside of Pixar can replicate.

Princess Mononoke

I'd have difficulty putting this list in order but my favourite of all is Princess Mononoke. It contains all of Miyazaki's pet themes; the environment, human nature and the futility of war. Combined with strong beautifully drawn characters and a slightly darker tone than his usual works, the 2 hours+ running time never seems too long. The opening scene of Ashitaka being chased by and eventually killing the Boar demon is as visceral and exhilarating as any scene you'll see in film.

Spirited Away

Winning Ghibli's first and only Oscar and still the only non English language film to win best animated Oscar, Spirited Away introduced a wider audience to Ghibli's films. The character design is a deliriously of kilter roster of gods, demons, dragons and soot monsters; No-face in the above picture being a particular stand out. At the centre of the film is a typically strong willed heroine desperately trying to get her parents back into human form. It's impossible not to be charmed by Spirited Away's beauty and story telling.

Grave of the Fireflies

The only film in the list not made by the legendary Miyazaki. This is a genuinely heart braking tale of two orphaned children struggling for survival in WWII Japan. Released the same year as My Neighbour Torturo it's difficult to imagine that they came out of the same studio. An animation that really is for adults, showing the effects of war on innocent children, it truly is heavy going. With an ending that really is gut wrenching, anyone not moved by it is made of sterner stuff than me.

My Neighbour Torturo

The plot to My neighbour Torturo may be wafer thin but that's beside the point. You share the sense of wonder that Satsuki and Mei experience when exploring their new surroundings and their encounter with the eponymous Torturo. One of the most iconic Ghibli creations, he even makes an appearance in Toy Story 3! My Neighbour Torturo is a film that has to be seen; you can't describe it to someone because they'll probably say it sounds ridiculous or boring which would deprive them of ever seeing the catbus! If public transport included catbus' no-one would complain about using them


This is my wife's favourite Ghibli film and yet again it's got the sort of story line that sounds ludicrous. A fish that wants to be a girl; a decision that may be destructive for the whole world. Even though Ponyo isn't quite as strong a female lead as Miyazaki's other creations she's no less charming, her shouts of Ponyo as she skipping through the waves always make me smile. The scenes of the ocean floor have so much going on and such intricate detail you almost feel as if you need two viewings to take it all in.

Honourable mentions to Howls Moving Castle, Kiki's Delivery Service and Nuasicaa of the Valley in the Wind (technically before Studio Ghibli's formation).  I just didn't have enough space.

This isn't to say I don't like computer animated films (I refer to my blog on Pixar films), I just hope there's room for both forms of film making in the future.

Whats your favourite Studio Ghibli film? 


  1. Pixar and Ghibli should not even be mentioned in the same sentence. Ghibli is real "art" who is able to generate success without constant explosions, wisecracks, and geek appeal.

    And why is John Lasseter always given credit for restoring traditional animation? After Princess and the Frog and Winnie the Pooh disappointed at the box office, he pulled the plug again. There is no traditional animated project at Disney, only the usual CG stuff. I'm sure these upcoming films will look very detailed, and the fur/snow/grass/water splashes, etc. will look totally real... but it won't have the same appeal. Not nearly the same appeal.

  2. I'll agree that Pixar are more mainstream but to say that Ghibli are better is a non point. They're better than Pixar and pretty much every studio in the world. That doesn't devalue what Pixar do.

    I'm not crediting John Lasseter with reinvigorating traditional animation. I simply stated that after Disney shut down animation he reopened the production arm and that is correct. People who make films like Chico and Rita and the Illusionist are keeping hand drawn animation alive not John Lasseter.

    The whole point of the article is that I don't think there is enough hand drawn animation.

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