So here's my take on why Maeve loves these movies, these beautiful works by Hayao Miyazaki.
1. Miyazaki movies are beautiful.
I mean, this guy practically invented artistic animation. Any Disney movie compared to these is just not so dazzling. And since Totoro was one of the first movies Maeve ever saw, it set a high bar. She's accustomed to these dazzling fields of flowers by diamond lakes, these rays of light coming through the window.
2. Miyazaki writes little girls in a way no one else can match.
The girls in his movies are active, brave, brilliant, and never content to stand around letting things happen to them. They are no one's victim, require no rescuing, and almost always save the day. They sometimes fall in love, but not always, and are very relatable to Maeve.
3. Miyazaki seamlessly blends in his fantasy.
Maeve is very sensitive to what's "real" and what's not, and she always wants to know the score. Miyazaki's fantasy elements are a part of the real world, without any magic wands or magic words. His wizards look like regular people; his talking animals and fires and such easily fit into his world.
4. Miyazaki movies are comforting.
Some people who've seen these movies tend to ask me, how can you let Maeve watch Miyazaki movies, they're so sad! And sometimes they are. But ultimately, I find them very comforting, and I know Maeve does, too, because they're what she wants to watch when she's sick or sad. Just knowing these characters exist somewhere can be a comforting feeling, and watching a little girl cry and then resolve to be brave can stiffen one's own resolve.
Anyway, if you haven't seen or shown your kids any Miyazaki movies, might I recommend a few? Totoro and Ponyo are best suited to the under-4 audience, although Maeve still loves watching them. The Cat Returns, The Secret World of Arrietty, and Howl's Moving Castle have some frightening elements, but at 4 Maeve is most engaged with these. We are saving Spirited Away until she's a bit older, as it has some complex themes and ideas, and more frightening plot, and Castle in the Sky has a lot of guns and is more violent. Nausicaa seems to be a little slow for her right now, and it'll be a very long time til she gets to see Princess Mononoke, which scared the daylights out of me in college. I kind of love knowing there are more gems for her to find as she grows.
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