Like most moms nowadays I try to keep my toddler’s screen time to a minimum. But some days I just really need to get stuff done! So naturally, I popped in a good ol’ Disney DVD and left my daughter to watch while I went about my business… 10 minutes later, she was at my feet tearing apart the house and completely undoing what little I had done. I tried every movie. Well, every movie I that wouldn’t give her nightmares. Frozen, Finding Nemo, Cinderella, nothing held her attention for more than 10 minutes! Eventually I gave up.
Then a few weeks ago a good friend of mine who is far more worldly than I am let me borrow some movies that her daughter likes. And eureka! My daughter was hooked. As soon as I pressed play on the first movie she was mesmerized and she lasted through the whole thing. She even asked to watch it the next day. Over the next few days I tested out the other films and it was the same with each of them. She loved them! I quickly went on Amazon and ordered our own set.
Never heard of them? I hadn’t either until my friend put them in my hands. They’re from Japan and were originally released in Japanese. They have since been dubbed over in English and feature some big-name Hollywood stars like Liam Nieson, Tina Fey, and Kirsten Dunst. Here’s what I love about these films.
No bad guys. Really. None. This really can’t be said of most Disney movies which almost always have a scary bad guy like Ursula or a big dragon or something else to give my daughter nightmares. These stories are driven by the life of the main characters and obstacles that get in the way of their goals. For example, in Ponyo a magical fish wants to become a human but her dad wants her to stay in the ocean with him. The dad’s not a bad guy but he does try to prevent Ponyo from leaving him because he loves her.
Simple animation. These films are one dimensional cartoons and lovely. With all of the advances in cartoon technology, it’s nice for my daughter to be able to relax and watch something that isn’t over-stimulating.
Great messages. Miyazaki seems to love to throw in subtle messages about things like pollution, respect for your elders, and being a good friend in all of these films. Even though my daughter doesn’t understand that stuff now, I like to think that it’ll sink in a little.
Slow-paced storytelling. Unlike most movies nowadays, Miyazaki’s films let you breathe between scenes rather than jump from shot to shot every few seconds like your typical cartoon. This makes me feel better about the little bit of screen time I give my daughter.
Intrigued? Here’s a little bit about each story…
Kiki’s Delivery Service (starring Kirsten Dunst and Janeane Garofalo): “Kiki is an enterprising young girl who must follow tradition to become a full-fledged witch. Venturing out with only her black cat, Jiji, Kiki flies off for the adventure of a lifetime. Landing in a far-off city, she sets up a high-flying delivery service and begins a wonderful experience of independence and responsibility as she finds her place in the world.”
Ponyo(starring Cate Blanchett, Liam Neeson & Tina Fey): “A young boy named Sosuke rescues a goldfish named Ponyo, and they embark on a fantastic journey of friendship and discovery before Ponyo s father, a powerful sorcerer, forces her to return to her home in the sea. But Ponyo s desire to be human upsets the delicate balance of nature and triggers a gigantic storm. Only Ponyo s mother, a beautiful sea goddess, can restore nature s balance and make Ponyo s dreams come true.”
My Neighbor Totoro (starring Dakota & Elle Fanning): “Follow the adventures of Satsuki and her four-year-old sister Mei when they move into a new home in the countryside. To their delight, they discover that their new neighbor is a mysterious forest spirit called Totoro — who can be seen only through the eyes of a child. Totoro introduces them to extraordinary characters — including a cat that doubles as a bus! — and takes them on an incredible journey.”
What films does your toddler love? I’m always on the lookout for new ones so leave any suggestions in the comments below!