Why love stories in animated films are really important

I like the modern Disney stuff. Frozen, Brave, Moana… But what about ~love~?

I got HBO Max (recommend it deeply) and been binge watching Studio Ghibli films (do it too, even if it’s the last thing you do, do it!).

Ghibli films are beautiful in every way a film can be beautiful. The plots are exciting and instigating, the sound invites you to explore worlds filled with magic. Every movie is a dive into fascinating external and internal universes. The characters are filled with pain and love. The scenario in which the stories take place offer marvelous portraits of the human soul. The weight of modernity, the price of duty, the mysteries of death – all is a part of stories told in these films… Love being the most commonly present one.

In the Studio Ghibli films, from Spirited Away to Whisper of the Heart, from Princess Mononoke to Porco Rosso the characters have desires, ambitions and internal arcs of their own. Nevertheless, they are all also moved by love.

In various degrees of platonic, the relationship between the characters unfolds in a way very different from any early Disney creations. Chihiro or Shizuko are not Cinderella or Snow White, they have goals, dreams and yet… Love feels their world with magic. They discover themselves by loving someone else, a feature so seemingly trivial and yet so uniquely represented in these animation features.

Watching a Studio Ghibli film transports you to a journey of grounded empathy and real feelings while cruising in magic realms. That is exactly what love feels like.

Don’t get me wrong, I admire Disney’s attempt to go away from the classic princess-finds-love-and-therefore-is-happy-forever thing, but there are gray areas here Disney hasn’t explored yet. Or Pixar. Or DreamWorks. Or Universal.

The Ghibli animation studio has succeeded in talking about love beyond the will they or won’t they tired dichotomy. The love stories exist because the protagonists change for the best through a human connection that feels magic. Isn’t that what love, any love, is?

I haven’t seen any movie from the Japanese studio in which the protagonists kiss, get married or live together a traditional happily-ever-after, but their connection is portrayed in a way that feels stronger than most love stories, be it live action or animation.

Teenagehood is the time most of us discover love. It is the time we also find people who seem to like us inside our new sense of self, one of the few things that simply feel magic. Ghibli captures, in it’s almost always teenage female protagonists, the cyclical search for oneself and the unique feeling of finding belonging in an age of solitude.

It proves that there is so much more to love stories than Disney makes it out to be. I honest to God do not care if the characters in Howl’s Moving Castle or The Cat Returns ever see each other again. The important thing is that they had each other for a pivotal moment that made the characters change and grow. What else could be more realistic and yet, simply fantastic?

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