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Studio Ghibli now has 21 films on Netflix: here’s why they will rock your isolated world

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Considered the ultimate benchmark for hand-drawn animation, 21 (yes, 21) of Studio Ghibli’s feature films have been released on Netflix. Here’s why you need to watch all of them.

My introduction to the work of the best duo since Batman and Robin—Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki—came years ago at around 3 am with a sick child. She woke up, exhausted but finally well enough to manage toast, in the middle of the night. We snuggled up and she asked if she could watch TV.

We circled the channels until we noticed a ‘cartoon’ and dove headfirst into the weird yet captivating world of Porco Rosso, an ace pilot who is, well, a pig.

We loved it—and I still love the idea that pilots, being one with the air, continue to fly once they die—in a great chain of craft circling the world as a rainbow.

If you hadn’t guessed already, Studio Ghibli—the Japanese powerhouse animation studio that made this film—is not straightforward Disney!

However, the message across all of Miyazaki’s films in particular, is of harmony with nature, honouring family, friendship and a great work ethic. A guidebook for surviving the world today. The best part? Every one of their films is family-friendly*.

Nausicaä and the Valley of the Winds is a firm favourite in our family as the hero (a girl) is a warrior who saves the environment from destruction (again) and is set 1000 years in the future.

Studio Ghibli films love to play with history and speculation and really, no one does it better. In fact, they take on any era with aplomb: a family film depicting the Japanese side of the Second World War, ending with sadness and ghosts? The Wind Also Rises is one of the most beautiful films ever made. The adventure of a teenage witch in Europe, long before Hermione? Kiki’s Delivery Service!

My top picks, though, are Studio Ghibli films with a child as the central character, like Kiki.

Howl’s Moving Castle might well be the best known of these and yes—while Sophî is 18, she has the same sensibility—a child, uncertain, often in danger, affected by magic or mourning a loss, has an adventure and discovers their own capabilities and resilience.

The strength here is that even though these young characters may meet magical mentors, they ultimately make their own decisions and find their own path. A much stronger narrative than many western fairytales.

The threat to the children, whilst there may be a magical element, is often real, even uncomfortable. In My Neighbor Tortoro two abandoned children meet a creature I can only describe as a combo of cat and panda but huge. In Spirited Away a young girl must rescue her parents from an evil witch.

The studio went through great change around 2013, with Miyazaki announcing his retirement and Takahata announcing that he was directing his last film (The Tale of Princess Kaguya). This rocked the studio so much there was actually a pause in production in 2014. Nothing good lasts forever.

All the titles I’ve mentioned are available and I have hyperlinked them to IMDb so you can read the synopses before watching with the children—enjoy!

*Some of the best are PG-13-‘M’ in Australia (the seminal Princess Mononoke, for example) but most are G or PG.

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