Do you know Disney's Best Kept Secret?

Your first guess is probably Disney's Vacation Club. Of course, we know it is simply a marketing ploy. I think Disney's real secret is their association with Studio Ghibli and the famed writer/director/animator Hayao Miyazaki.

Miyazaki is one of those great secrets that you just can't wait to share with everyone. He is one of the most acclaimed animated filmmakers and one of the founders of Studio Ghibli.

Wait! You haven't seen Spirited Away or My Neighbor Totoro? What about Ponyo?

If not, then I have a list of amazing films for you to check out. The Studio Ghibli films are not standard anime fare. Easily, they can be compared to the timeless and breathtaking beauty of the Disney animated films from the first Golden Age of animation.

Disney has released several of the Studio Ghibli films theatrically in the US and on Blu-ray/DVD. Another wave of Blu-ray titles are here to celebrate the release of the latest film, The Secret World of Arrietty.

Miyazaki is well-known for sticking with similar themes in all of his movies. He loves strong, young female characters, Japanese socio-culture and animals. The Secret World of Arrietty is based on the Borrowers series of books by Mary Norton and infuses many of his regular themes.

As can be expected, this film is one of the most beautiful films you will ever see. Studio Ghibli is still known for their gorgeous hand drawn films and each film elevates their art form. What surprised me was the soundtrack; there was a very Celtic flavor to it that added a lot of life.

Arrietty is a young Borrower (voiced by Bridgit Mendler from Good Luck, Charlie) who is seen by one of the Beans, Shawn (David Henrie from the Wizards of Waverly Place). A relationship develops with expected and unexpected consequences. Each film by Miyazaki seems to center on a specific age, but will be enjoyed by anyone. The Secret World of Arrietty poses as a Romeo and Juliet-style story, which will appeal to tweens and teens, but is really about growth and understanding between two cultures.

The film is lush and the soundtrack is breathtaking. The film is lighter on the story, but more than makes up for it with the animation. I always look at my sons' reactions to different films to see how well the film captures their attention. Both boys (13 and 8) were extremely eager to watch this film and sat mostly spellbound the entire time. There was a point where the film got almost romantic and the 8 year-old started to get a little squirmy.

The Secret World of Arrietty is charming and beautiful. If you are a fan of Studio Ghibli, then you already know that you need to buy this one.

Whisper of the Heart was originally released in 1995 and this is its first time on Blu-ray (there was a DVD release in 2006). This is one of Studio Ghibli's films that is set in the modern world. The animation is not as fantastical or whimsical as some of the other films, but it is still an incredible work of art.

Shizuku is a school girl who has an obvious love of reading. While working on the school graduation song, she starts to realize that she has a dream of writing but is unsure of herself. Her best friend confides that she has a crush on a specific boy and Shizuku is pulled into the drama.

She notices that a specific name keeps appearing on the check out cards of all the library books she is reading. She wonders who this mysterious boy is and if there is something they might share. One day, she follows a cat (or is led by the cat) to an antique store where she meets the Baron. And a boy. Shizuku decides to follow her dream to see if she can make it as a writer before starting high school.

This film's charm lies in two areas that involve the characters. They display great emotion throughout the film that is heightened as we get to know them. Also, we get a glimpse of a happy and chaotic Japanese middle class family. This film, like Arrietty, is aimed at the young teen and tween market, but will be enjoyed by all.

Whisper of the Heart is a very well put together film that is not as whimsical as other Miyazaki films, but it still carries as much heart and emotion as any of the other films he has written.

Castle in the Sky has been a family favorite for many years.

Miyazaki is at his best when he writes films that are firmly rooted in Japanese Culture. Themes of nature prevailing, forest spirits and family make up his most popular films. Coming in a close second is his love for creating flying machines, technology and Steampunk before it was steampunk.

Castle in the Sky is an extraordinary adventure film that focuses on two young tweens that are both searching for something. When we meet Sheeta, her air vessel is under attack and she falls, being saved by a glowing pendant that floats her down gently. We meet Pazu, who watches her fall and goes to rescue Sheeta.

As we learn more about them, we discover that Sheeta is searching for who she is and Pazu is looking for the lost floating city of Laputa that his father had told him about. The adventure centers on two groups. One is trying to capture Sheeta while the other unwittingly tries to protect her. The antics of the groups adds a lot of humor to the film and depth to the characters.

Castle in the Sky is more of an action-adventure film with a lot of fantastical gadgets, automatons and magic. This film is geared more towards younger boys, but like all of the other Studio Ghibli films, it will be enjoyed by everyone.

These reviews are pretty broad. You really have to experience a Studio Ghibli film to understand the cult-like following that they have.

Cory Gross (a Mice Chat forum member) runs Voyages Extraordinaire and he visited the Studio Ghibli Museum. Check out his post and leave him a comment!

Recommended Studio Ghibli Films:

By George Taylor

The Disney Review is written and edited by Jeff Heimbuch and George Taylor

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