Homelife, Homeschooling

Parent Guide to Studio Ghibli Films

When most English speakers think of an animated movie, they usually think of Disney and Pixar. While these powerhouses deserve their fame, in Japan you’d get a very different answer: “Studio Ghibli.”

Adults and children alike enjoy these creative anime films, but here in the United States, many parents have no idea what to expect when it comes to Studio Ghibli films.

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What is Studio Ghibli?

Studio Ghibli (pronounced “jib-lee”) is a place, a director, and a genre all of its own. The place itself is a small atelier just outside of Tokyo, where teams of animators write, storyboard, and produce animated films. Originally, everything was done by hand, though in recent years digital processes have replaced some of the work; but unlike the instantly recognizable CGI of Disney/Pixar/Dreamworks, Studio Ghibli strives to preserve the old school, 2D, hand-drawn aesthetic as much as possible.

The term “Ghibli movie” usually refers to the filmography of one of its directors, Hayao Miyazaki, who together with fellow director Isao Takahata founded the company in 1985. Miyazaki’s films have been the bulk of the studio’s work and its highest blockbusters (so it’s appropriate to consider Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli along the lines of John Lasseter and Pixar), hence the shorthand.  

What Makes Studio Ghibli Unique?

As a genre, Studio Ghibli sets itself apart from Disney–which is most well-known for the musical adaptation of classic folktales–and Pixar–which has always been about pursuing new technological heights as much as telling stories–in that most, if not all, Ghibli movies have a certain set of common themes/elements such as strong heroines, flight, nature/nature vs. man, lavishly detailed food, supernatural realism (that is, magical or unreal elements presented as if they could be real), and settings that are  heavily influenced by 19th and early 20th century Europe.  

Also unlike Disney/Pixar, the genre tends to share a very particular visual style that is pretty recognizable once you’ve been introduced to it. Nausicaa looks a lot like Sheeta looks a lot like San, etc., in a way that say, Snow White and Jasmine or Toy Story and Frozen do not.  

Why Watch Studio Ghibli Movies?

The movies are very rarely adaptations of any existing work (Howl’s Moving Castle, Kiki’s Delivery Service, and Tales from Earthsea are notable exceptions), yet they are by and large richly layered, beautiful, complex stories that people of all ages and backgrounds can enjoy.

I think this is my favorite aspect of Studio Ghibli movies.  The truly “all ages entertainment” aspect is why I was delighted to introduce my children to them, and why we make a point to rewatch our favorites every summer. They are films that grow with you, that yield more and more depth as you rewatch them. They aren’t easily forgotten, and yet they impart some wonderful values like courage and friendship that most parents will appreciate.   

NOTE: Thanks to the hard work of famous admirer John Lasseter, all the movies are available on DVD/BluRay and  “dubbed” into English (instead of the original Japanese) by talented and well-known actors such as Christian Bale, Anna Paquin, and Dakota Fanning.

Studio Ghibli Movies to Watch with Your Kids

These movies are the most popular and most appropriate movies for all ages to enjoy. In that light, I strongly suggest that you actively avoid Grave of the Fireflies, Pom Poko, and Princess Mononoke, with younger children. These titles are all mature, serious, traumatic, and violent.

Click on a title for a movie summary and discussion questions that will encourage great family conversations.

NOTE: Posts are being written and published once a week. Links to individual titles will be added as they are published. 



Ashley Tieman
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Ashley Tieman

Ashley Tieman is a book loving, Japanese speaking, Nintendo playing, comic book reading, anime watching, Christ following, definitely extroverted homeschool mom to two kids and three cats in Memphis, TN.
Ashley Tieman
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  • Reply Simone July 8, 2019 at

    So excited to dig in. Thank you for sharing such wonderful info.

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