Kid-Friendly Studio Ghibli Movies
Studio Ghibli is a Japanese film studio that has made some of the best animated movies of all time. For those of us who grew up on just Disney movies, Studio Ghibli's movies are at least the equivalent in quality. They're charming films which always seem to provoke deep thought and nostalgia for older viewers and make younger children giggle and squeal. Also, these films usually feature headstrong but kind female protagonists. Disney produces the English dubs for most of the movies released in the west, casting familiar actors and actresses to skillfully bring the characters to life. From toddlers to seniors, Studio Ghibli has a movie for everyone to enjoy.
I've labeled these by appropriate minimum age group. Of course, a nine-year-old is absolutely allowed to watch movies for younger ages.
Movies for Kids Ages 2-6
These movies have no gore whatsoever.
My Neighbor Totoro
My Neighbor Totoro is a cute movie about a man and his two daughters who move to a new house out in the country to be closer to his ailing wife. It dances on the border between reality and fantasy when the two girls meet a few friendly "forest spirits". The blissful countryside scenery will bring something nostalgic to life within adults and children will probably like big, cute, fluffy Totoro and his friends. This story has a happy ending and zero violence.
Ponyo is a movie about a little fish girl who wants to become a human. She meets a five-year-old boy named Sousuke and they grow to become friends. The animation in this movie is beautiful and there are plenty of cute, colorful things to keep a young child entertained. For adults, there are themes of how to treat the environment properly but they don't weigh the movie down. Ponyo and Sousuke have an innocent love and they share a tiny, friendly peck on the lips which shouldn't alarm anyone... but, it might, I guess.
Movies for Kids Ages 7-12
These movies don't have gore but they are movies about growing up a little bit.
Kiki's Delivery Service
Kiki's Delivery Service is about a 13-year-old witch who must, by tradition, move away from her family for a year to learn about the world. She can talk to her cat and fly on her broomstick. She moves to a new city and meets all sorts of people, learning about herself in the process. There are realistic themes in this movie about innocent love, growing up and not being accepted. No blood or violence to be had here, though, and the movie has a happy ending.
The Cat Returns
This movie is about a girl who can talk to cats. She goes to a world where cats run everything and slowly begins to transform into a cat herself. She makes a lot of cat friends (and a few enemies), having a fun adventure. The only mature theme I can think of here is that she has a crush who turns her down in the beginning of the movie, but she grows confidence and respect for herself by the end of the movie. The movie isn't about her crush at all, really. Zany, kitty-filled action and a touch of quirkiness make this a nice movie for kids and cat-lovers of all ages.
The Secret World of Arrietty
This movie is about a girl named Arrietty who lives with her mother and father underneath a house. They're tiny people who borrow things from the house that people would never miss or notice is gone. She meets a sickly boy named Sho whom she befriends and becomes close to even though he's a million times bigger than she is. There are some scenes that may excite children such as a crow flapping wildly in a window, a cat chasing after Arrietty and a part where she is being chased by grasshoppers, but there is no gore to be found here. A deeper theme is included: teaching that good intentions don't always have good results, but this movie has a happy (if not a tad bittersweet) ending.
Movies for Kids Ages 13 & Up
These movies, while wonderful, have some scenes that may be disturbing to some viewers.
Spirited Away is a movie about a girl named Chihiro who is moving to a new town and a new school against her will. She and her parents stop in a ghost town that comes alive at night and her parents are transformed into pigs. A mysterious boy named Haku informs her that in order to save her parents she has to work at the bathhouse. It's great for grown-ups because we get to see her develop as a person and children have plenty of colorful, whimsical characters on which to feast their eyes.
Disturbing scenes include a character who vomits black oil (at least he has manners and says "excuse me"), a scene where there is blood, and a part where a character is eaten (he is unharmed). Also, there is a huge baby that wears an apron-type bib which exposes his bottom. Although there is blood, there aren't any scenes where one character physically slices or shoots another. This story has a happy ending and is one of my personal favorite Studio Ghibli movies.
Howl's Moving Castle
This movie is about a quiet, shy girl named Sophie who is a hat maker. By chance, she runs into the sorcerer Howl in an alley when he saves her from a couple guards and some creepy black blob men. Afterwards, assuming Sophie personally knows Howl, a wicked witch puts a curse on her that transforms her into an old woman.
This movie has bombs and explosions that may be scary to some viewers. There is also a scene where you see Howl's rump but it's not in a perverted manner. There is also a tiny kiss between Sophie and Howl but there is nothing sexual about the scene. It's more of an "awakening" kiss.
Movies for Grown Kids Ages 18+:
These movies have mature themes which will bore kids and only adults can understand. A couple have violence/gore.
This movie features a strong male protagonist named Ashitaka who becomes cursed when trying to defend his village and leaves on a journey to find his resting place. What ensues is a battle between nature and human beings, metal and Earth. There are scenes that may turn even an adults stomach, such as a beheading by an arrow and a wolf using poor Ashitaka's head as a chew toy (he lives).
The animation is flawless and the movie is filled with strong female characters. There are plenty of colorful and strange things in the world of Princess Mononoke and the soundtrack is perfection.
Whisper of the Heart
This movie is about a girl named Shizuku who likes to write. She decides to follow a cat home that she saw on the train and ends up meeting all sorts of people. This story is about pure, young love and following your dreams. There is a marriage proposal between two young characters which may make a parent not want to show their child this movie. Whisper of the Heart is sweet, quite mundane, and doesn't contain any intense action sequences to entertain those who need explosions to stay interested.
Only Yesterday is a movie which females in their mid-twenties and up can relate to. It takes place in 1982 and is about a woman named Taeko who is struggling to find herself through a career she's not sure she likes and a non-existent love life. She goes to the countryside and talks to a man who resurrects memories of her fifth-grade self.
She remembers important parts of her life, such as when she hit puberty, troubles understanding math, and times when someone made her feel terrible about herself. If you've ever locked up your heart and had trouble understanding yourself as well as other people, take the quiet, charming journey with Taeko and experience Only Yesterday.
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is a movie about a pacifist princess who loves nature, all creatures, and lives a peaceful life with her fellow villagers. Soon enough, the surrounding kingdoms begin fighting each other and thinking of ways to conquer other humans and creatures. Nausicaä must save her people and nature before it's too late. There are guns and violence in this movie, but it's still a beautifully animated and touching film.
Grave of the Fireflies
If you don't want to cry, don't watch this movie. This is the story of Seita and Setsuko, a teenage boy and his toddler sister, during the end of World War II. They struggle to live after they're orphaned during a bombing raid on their neighborhood in Japan. This story is very realistic and riveting. The love between the siblings is beautiful, and the dose of reality given by this animation may make viewers think twice about what they take for granted.
Other Studio Ghibli Movies
- Castle in the Sky (13 & Up): Minions try to capture a girl who has royal blood in order to satisfy their greed. Has guns, a bit of violence, and is two hours long. The soundtrack is flawless.
- Pom Poko (18+): I had to give this one an 18+ only because of the prominent testicles on the "tanuki". Otherwise, it's a cute movie about fun-loving tanuki (raccoon-dog-like creatures) who are trying to save their habitat.
- From Up on Poppy Hill (18+): A movie about a girl meeting her first love only to find out that he may be her brother. No gore or anything like that, but the simplicity may leave most children bored.
- Tales from Earthsea (13 & Up): A bit of violence and a war-like atmosphere. A tad bit boring for my taste.
As you read this, Studio Ghibli is creating two more movies. They will no doubt be masterpieces. I will update this list as more movies come out!