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6 Kid-Friendly Studio Ghibli Movies

Ms. Danvers is a self-educated businesswoman from St. Louis. She runs a textile company and relaxes by watching Japanese animated film.

Studio Ghibli's iconic logo, featuring Totoro from "My Neighbor Totoro."

Studio Ghibli's iconic logo, featuring Totoro from "My Neighbor Totoro."

What Are the Most Family-Friendly Studio Ghibli Movies?

What a great question! So many people assume that any animated film is perfectly appropriate for children to watch.

This is simply not true. And every kid is different. Some young children might love animated movies that feature exploding planes and buildings on fire (Spirited Away features both of these) and some older children are really scared by a movie where a young girl's parents turn into pigs, leaving her alone in a creepy amusement park (same movie).

But Hayao Miyazaki (pronounced High-yow My-a-za-key) has made several movies that my kids and I love. Miyazaki helped start Studio Ghibli in 1985 but has sadly retired from filmmaking. His studio continues to produce beautiful animation, however, including The Red Turtle and From Up on Poppy Hill, made by his son.

I've listed my favorite Ghibli movies here and organized them from the best for young children (ages 5-7) to those that might be better for ages 8-10 and then 11 and up.

Are Studio Ghibli Movies for Kids or Adults?

Adults love Studio Ghibli movies. The animation style is so beautiful and the colors so vivid and gorgeous, you'll enjoy them just for the visuals.

Some of the stories can be challenging for kids. My kids say that The Cat Returns isn't scary, but the humor is a little more sophisticated. There's some great physical comedy to keep kids involved, however. When Haro is being dressed to meet the Cat King, it's fun to watch her transform into an elegant cat.

My age recommendations may not apply to your kids! Some five-year-olds might not find Spirited Away scary at all. My daughter, on the other hand, was upset when Chihiro's parents turn into pigs.

Ponyo, surprisingly, doesn't seem to scare kids, even when Soskei is trying to find his mom after their town is flooded. My kids got a little antsy, but not scared. In fact, my kids wanted to watch this movie several times so they could understand the ending.

All of these Ghibli movies are worth watching more than once, partly because they're so beautiful, but also to fully appreciate the story. Howl's Moving Castle can be confusing and even strange. It took my family a few viewings to understand how time works. When Sophie says to Howl, "Why do I know you so well?" it's because they had met in the past!

Kid-Friendly Ghibli Films

Ages 5-7Ages 8-10Age 11 and up

"Ponyo," about a fish-girl who falls in love with a human boy.

"The Cat Returns," about a girl who saves a cat-prince and is offered his hand in marriage.

"Spirited Away," about a girl who enters a magical world and discovers how brave she is.

"My Neighbor Totoro," about two young girls who befriend a giant furry spirit after moving to the countryside.

"Kiki's Delivery Service," about a young witch who leaves for the city with her black cat when she turns 13.

"Howl's Moving Castle," about a girl who is turned into an old woman only to be transformed again by the love of a wizard.

My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

The definitive Ghibli movie, My Neighbor Totoro is the most charming of Ghibli's movies for young children. This movie creates a bucolic wonderland in the Japanese countryside where farmers cultivate rice surrounded by enormous camphor trees and fuzzy spirits that only children can see.

Satsuki and Mei move into a dilapidated but enchanting old house with their father, who is a professor, while their mother recovers from an illness in the hospital. Right away they encounter dust sprites in the attic, which they whimsically send packing from the house by laughing long and hard.

This movie will delight very young children who will love the big furry creatures the girls meet (Totoro himself, smaller forest spirits, and a mildly scary catbus). School-age children will enjoy seeing how Satsuki cares for her little sister and even lets her spend the day with her at school.

A happy ending and wonderful music make this a classic that you'll want to watch with your children again and again.

Ponyo (2008)

The story of Ponyo will delight young children, especially those who are familiar with the story of The Little Mermaid. This is the Japanese version and it is entirely unique. There is no witch who cuts out Ariel's tongue and no painful tail-into-fins transformation.

This is Studio Ghibli's love letter to the ocean, featuring astonishing sea creatures, waves with eyes and voices, and beautiful music. The story is classic Ghibli: A human child accidentally makes contact with the magical world of a wizard who lives underwater with thousands of tiny fish-daughters he had with Granmamare, the Goddess of Mercy and Queen of the Ocean. One of those daughters is Brunhilde, who is renamed Ponyo by the boy who falls in love with her.

The Cat Returns (2002)

Haru is a shy middle-schooler who is bookish and awkward. One day, crossing the road, she saves a cat's life by scooping him up with her lacrosse stick as a truck approaches.

The cat, as it happens, is Prince of the Cat Kingdom. He rewards Haru with gifts of catnip and offers her his hand in marriage.

Instead of marrying the prince, Haru goes on an adventure in the Cat Kingdom, discovering that there are other lives she can save as well.

This movie features adorable cats, including the handsome Baron, who appeared in an earlier Ghibli movie, Whisper of the Heart. Particularly charming are the black and white guard cats who jog alongside the King of the Cat Kingdom, protecting him from gawkers and stray cats.

Kiki's Delivery Service (1989)

Thirteen-year-old Kiki is just an adorable character: earnest, adventurous, helpful, and she can fly! Your children will love watching her as she leaves home on her broom, under the full moon, to spend a year training to be a witch. At her side is Jiji, her wisecracking black cat.

She picks a port city with clock towers, trains, and dirigibles. One character is a little annoying, the nerdy boy Tombo, who takes a shining to Kiki and persists in following her around on his bicycle.

But it's very sweet to watch Kiki endure some loneliness in the city, make new friends, start her own business, and discover that her magical powers are only part of what makes her an amazing girl.

Spirited Away (2002)

This movie's main character, Chihiro, is only 10, but the situations Chihiro finds herself in might be inappropriate for a younger child.

While driving to their new home, Chihiro and her parents come upon an old amusement park with empty arcade buildings. One of the tumble-down buildings has restaurant stalls and as they wander through them, food appears in one stall and Chihiro's parents enthusiastically sit down to eat.

Chihiro, who didn't want to move to begin with, is horrified that her parents are eating food when there is no salesperson around. Slowly, things get stranger and stranger until Chihiro realizes she's in a magical world of witches, river gods, and other spirits (some disgusting and covered in muck) and that she has to be very brave (and briefly give up her identity) in order to get back to her world.

Howl's Moving Castle (2004)

My personal favorite, Howl's Moving Castle is just mesmerizing and beautiful. All of Ghibli's movies are colorful and gorgeous, but this one is especially imaginative, in my opinion.

Howl, a wizard, lives in a castle made out of junk that can fly and walk on giant feet, like a steam-punk Baba Yaga hut. The power behind the castle is a little fire demon named Calcifer (my favorite character).

Our hero in this movie is Sophie, a plain but spunky milliner, who diligently works at her trade in the shadow of her gorgeous but shallow sister and mother. Sophie is thrust into a magical world (sound familiar by now?) when she meets Howl, a dashing wizard with a reputation for breaking girls' hearts, and unwittingly incurs the wrath of the Witch of the Waste.

Unfortunately, there's also a war going on. Lots of firing planes and bombs might make this movie upsetting for little children, but older ones will enjoy the magic, whimsy, and romance.

Which Ghibli Movies Aren't Appropriate for Kids?

  • Grave of the Fireflies is about a boy who dies of starvation shortly after World War II. His spirit joins with his dead sister, and a cloud of fireflies, on a journey back to the final days of the war.
  • Ocean Waves is a more mature film about a young adult relationship.
  • When Marnie Was There is a very mature movie about a child in foster care whose parents abuse her physically and psychologically.

© 2018 Louise Danvers