Studio Ghibli is a Japanese film studio founded by Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, that over the last thirty years has created a collection of beautiful and artistic animated films, which have now finally made their way to Netflix!
Studio Ghibli films are something a little bit different; there is a huge attention to detail, and appreciation for little moments and expressions.
The stories they portray also go against typical stereotypes, often featuring a strong female protagonist, the inclusion of vulnerable male leads and a huge range of ages among their characters too. The style of animation is also very intricate, you will notice something new every time you watch one of these films.
Something to note about Studio Ghibli's films is that although often aimed at children of all ages, as most are rated U or PG, some of their movies cover slightly darker themes, and do have scary moments and some unusual (but very imaginative!) characters. Some children may not even bat an eye but it is worth watching a few of the below films yourself first as you will know what will be suitable. The certificate isn't always the best guide, as it is quite subjective as to what some children might find scary. The stories generally have a peaceful tone, helped along by amazing musical scores (playlists are freely available and are perfect for winding down at bedtime or focusing on school work!), but there are a few moments and scenes that could be confusing for younger viewers. Some of the most popular films in this collection were made in the late 80's and throughout the 90's, so watching these is also a great way to introduce your kids to a style of animation and film making they may not have experienced yet, and also open up discussions about magic, imagination, friendship and Japanese mythology and culture.
My Neighbour Totoro (1988)
This is the story of two girls, Satsuki and Mei (voiced in English by Dakota and Elle Fanning in 2006) who have moved to a new house in the countryside with their father while their mother recovers from an illness in a nearby hospital. They soon discover their new home is not all it first seemed; there are mysterious 'soot gremlins' in every corner that dash away as soon as you spot them, and a family of forest spirits living nearby, including the gigantic, cuddly Totoro. The animation is beautiful with amazing attention to detail. All ages will be mesmerised! The story is one of hope and family, a perfect Sunday afternoon watch.
Certificate U, suitable for all ages.
Kiki's Delivery Service (1989)
It is tradition for all young witches to leave their families on the night of a full moon to learn their craft. This is where this charming story begins, with Kiki, and her little talking cat Jiji leaving home for the first time. They find a faraway seaside city to call their home, where they soon meet a kind bakery owner who befriends Kiki and helps her start her own business, a high-flying delivery service. Kiki is independent and super smart but also intuitive and thoughtful, this film explores lots of themes that will be familiar to children just starting to seek independence and new experiences, and find confidence in their own abilities. Young and old viewers alike will love the beautiful animation and easy to follow story.
Certificate U, suitable for all ages.
Whisper of the Heart (1995)
This is a Studio Ghibli romance, but unlike many Disney films with fast paced love stories (marrying a man you just met etc!) Whisper of the Heart is a little more realistic, whilst still being firmly appropriate for children. 14 year old Shizuku looks through all the checkout cards in her library books, and finds that they’ve all previously been checked out by the same person, she sets out to find out who they are, whilst also coping with all the usual trials and tribulations that come with being 14. This film also has a strong emphasis on the importance of hard work in order to follow your dreams, in this case Shizuku wants to become a writer; the film focuses a lot on her schoolwork and her love of reading. There is also a heavy dose of the usual Studio Ghibli magic, and otherworldly themes alongside a beautiful score, and animation with a wonderful attention to detail.
Certificate U, nothing inappropriate but does explore more romantic topics.
Spirited Away (2001)
This Oscar winning animation may well be Studio Ghibli's best known film. Spirited Away tells the story of 10-year-old Chihiro and her parents who happen upon what appears to be abandoned theme park. After some strange occurrences which result in Chihiro's parents being turned into pigs, she meets Haku, a young boy who explains that the park is actually resort for supernatural being, taking a break from their time spent in the earthly realm! Chihiro must work at the park to be able to free herself and her parents. We follow her journey and meet the weird and wonderful creatures that make up this world. This story is a great example of a brave female protagonist and it shows a side to a female character often overlooked in modern kids films, however there are many creepy moments and a lot of potentially scary characters so we do not recommend for younger viewers! This is dependent on your children as it has been deemed a PG, but we would suggest best for kids age 10 and up and to watch with them on their first viewing.
Certificate PG, suitable for age 10 and up due to some frightening elements.
The Cat Returns (2002)
This story is about a girl named Haru, who saves a cat in the nick of time, just as a truck was about to run it over. The cat turns out to be Prince Lune, from a magical and strange place called 'The Cat Kingdom'. As a thank you for saving him, various cats reward Haru with gifts of catnip and mice, until she is eventually taken to the kingdom herself to marry Lune! The two prominent cat characters that feature in the Whisper of the Heart movie (the very round and grumpy white cat Muta and the charming Baron) return in this movie. Due to slightly teenage language and some fantasy violence among the cats, we would recommend this film for kids ages 8 and up, however like most of these films this is totally child/family dependent as the more grown up themes could well go over younger children's heads as talking cats may capture most of their attention!
Certificate U, we recommend age 8+.
This is a sweet and whimsical film about a friendship between two children from very different worlds. Five-year-old Sôsuke meets Ponyo, a young goldfish princess, when she gets washed up among the rocks on the beach where rescues her. Ponyo's father is a sorcerer who lives deep in the ocean; he can't stand humans and the endless damage done to the environment (good opportunity for discussion!). He is desperate to quell Ponyo's magic and bring her back home; there could be pretty serious consequences for all if she doesn't return. This is a wonderful story of family, friendship and adventure, suitable for all ages and very enjoyable for grown ups too.
Certificate U, suitable for all ages.
This film is Studio Ghibli's interpretation of the classic story The Borrowers. Arrietty is a tiny teenager who lives with her parents beneath the floorboards of a suburban family home. Arrietty is accidentally seen in the garden by Shô, a young boy staying at the house with his great aunt while he recovers from an illness. They begin a friendship but the discovery of the 'little people' means they will soon have to leave, as the cruel housekeeper is desperate to catch one of them and is growing suspicious. This film is about kindness and companionship, and the ways we can help one another with even just a small gesture. This well known story is retold with Studio Ghibli's enchanting animation and soundtrack and the English dubbed version also features the voices of Saoirse Ronan, Olivia Coleman and Tom Holland.
Certificate U, but take some caution as there are a couple of frightening/sad scenes, we recommend for age 7+
Freelance writer Amy lives in Hampshire with her 3 year old daughter, who is a super energetic, chatty child, leading to Amy’s interest in all matters to do with infant and child sleeping patterns and mindfulness for adults and children. Amy’s degree was in fashion design and she loves filling their beautiful home full of interesting textiles, tiles, art, ceramics, and houseplants or, alternatively, pining over them on Instagram. When they aren’t out exploring in the fresh air they can be found cosying up at home, painting, knitting, and dancing!