Studio Ghibli goes for global dominance

Shinto: An ancient Japanese religion in which everything – a river, a signpost, an animal – has a spirit.

Are the best animated films made in Japan? With the first Studio Ghibli films moving to Netflix tomorrow, we examine why anime has become so popular and if it can ever surpass Disney.

Who would win in a fight: Mickey Mouse or Totoro?

A strange image. But these are the faces of the two greatest animation studios on the planet: Disney and Studio Ghibli.

Mickey is Disney’s loveable creation that helped kickstart a billion-dollar conglomerate.

Totoro has jumped straight out of Japanese folklore and conquered the hearts of the world.

Totoro’s eponymous film My Neighbour Totoro is ranked best animation-ever by Time Out magazine.

Just what is it that makes Studio Ghibli films so beloved?

One clue lies in this story. The man behind Totoro, Hayao Miyazaki, refused to let the American producer Harvey Weinstein edit Princess Mononoke for a western audience. In fact, Studio Ghibli sent him an authentic Japanese sword bearing the message: “No cuts.”

With 90% of the films hand-drawn rather than created by computer graphics, a Ghibli film is considered a work of art.

Miyazaki also revels in a human complexity rarely found in a Disney film. For instance, the contradictory Lady Eboshi – kind, elegant and a villain – seems more real than the evil Scar from The Lion King.

Studio Ghibli was part of a new wave, confronting serious topics, such as war and technology in Howl’s Moving Castle, or human destruction of nature in Pom Poko and Princess Mononoke, in fresh and exciting ways.

The groundbreaking film Akira presents a post-apocalyptic world after the destruction of Tokyo, mirroring the nuclear blast over Hiroshima.

But 50 years earlier, Disney was also the trailblazer of its time.

It was the first studio to use synchronised sound in animation and released a number of films unlike the world had ever seen.

And it continues to produce hugely successful stories, such as Frozen. Every girl wants to be the strong, independent Elsa with magic powers.

America’s Disney still dominates the animation industry. But does Japan make the best films?

Spirited away

Of course not, say many. Frozen. The Incredibles. Toy Story. Finding Dory. Just saying the names reminds you that Disney has made many of the most successful cartoons of all time. Even the best of Studio Ghibli can’t create the jaw-dropping wonder of Snow White, Peter Pan, the Jungle Book or Pinocchio. In some of these films, every frame is a beautiful painting. And they’re still genuinely funny.

You can’t compare the two types of animation, say others. Maybe Disney has sentimental value, but Studio Ghibli produces movies that are a hundred times better. With morally ambiguous stories, plots that range from whimsical to epic, and multi-faceted characters – these incredible works of art appeal both to children and adults. They win hands down.

You Decide

  1. Do you prefer Japanese anime or American cartoons?
  2. With the rise of adult cartoons, such as Rick and Morty, Family Guy, and The Simpsons, will Studio Ghibli lose popularity?


  1. Draw your favourite cartoon character.
  2. Write a rap battle between a Disney and a Studio Ghibli character. One must come out on top.

Some People Say...

“Animation can explain whatever the mind of man can conceive.”

Walt Disney (1901-1966), founder of the Walt Disney company

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The Walt Disney company owns the distribution rights to a number of Studio Ghibli films. However, Hiyao Miyazaki still has full command over Ghibli creations. Disney is known for its innovative ways of creating cartoons, using the latest technology to put itself ahead of competitors. Studio Ghibli is known for using very little technology in its works. Both studios have opened theme parks: Ghibli Museum opened in Tokyo, in 2001. The first of many Disneylands opened in 1955 in Los Angeles, California.
What do we not know?
If these two had launched at the same time, which one would have been the bigger success. Yes, Disney was innovative, but against the evolved world of anime, would this still be so? Yet Studio Ghibli may never have happened without Disney as a precedent.

Word Watch

A company with many different parts to it.
Stories and beliefs passed down the generations by word of mouth.
An eponymous character in a play, book has the same name as the title.
Harvey Weinstein
US film producer, currently caught up in a scandal involving numerous sexual assault allegations.
A revolutionary anime film released in 1988 that gained a large cult following.
A Japanese city destroyed by an atomic bomb in World War II.
The first to do something.
Synchronised sound
Animation was silent until Disney released Steamboat Willie, the first cartoon with dialogue.


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