"We do little homages in our films, and we thought it was a very appropriate homage to let Studio Ghibli know how much they mean to us." - John Lasseter on Totoro's cameo in Toy Story 3.
These days hardly a week goes by without an animated film released at cinemas. They are so commonplace now that sometimes you can forget which one is which, they are so similar. They usually fall into two categories: talking animals acting in very human ways and learning life lessons along the way; or human stories that could not be told in real life without the budget the size of the economy of a small country.
Some of these films succeed, some don't. Some of these films stick in the mind after we have watched them, some are forgotten by the time we've left the theatre. But the studios keep them coming thick and fast. The choice is there, that's a good thing at least.
The giants of the Western world are Pixar, Walt Disney and DreamWorks. They have dominated the market over the last 15 years - or 70, in Disney's case - and scored some of the biggest financial hits at the box office over that time, and have now joined forces with Pixar.
Pixar have been very consistent in terms of quality control, with the likes of the Toy Story trilogy, Finding Nemo, Wall-E and The Incredibles not only breaking box office records, but also appearing only critics end-of-year 'best of' lists. They have also made the transition from being nominated for the Academy Award for best animated feature to best feature, period.
But fans of animated films from around the world knew of a company that was blending beautiful visuals with stories since 1985, and worldwide acclaim has now found them too. Their name is Studio Ghibli and they were founded by Hayao Miyazaki in Japan.
John Lasseter of Pixar has been friends with Miyazaki for thirty years, despite neither man knowing the language of the other. It is a friendship built on respect and the love of each other's work. Lasseter oversaw the American dubbing of Spirited Away and beat the publicity drum which resulted in the 2001 masterpiece winning the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.
Studio Ghibli's influence can be seen all over Pixar's work, from the emphasis being on story above all else to the risk taking on subject matter and ideas. Would Wall-E have been made by a studio that wasn't influenced by Studio Ghibli?
Toy Story 3, an animated film so beautifully realised that was nominated for Best Picture, saw John Lasseter pay homage to his friend and hero with a cameo from the world's most famous blue troll, Totoro. It is a lovely touch, and one that Studio Ghibli fans from around the world must love. I found myself pointing to the screen and saying "There's Tororo!" every time he came on-screen... I'm 31 years of age.
But folks older than I love Ghibli as much as I do. Check out Terry Gilliam's piece for Time Out about My Neighbour Totoro. Then watch it for yourself.
The more Hollywood relies on remakes and pours money into superhero franchises that are safer bets at the box office, the more people will turn up to watch these beautifully drawn animated worlds brought to life. As long as Studio Ghibli and Pixar are open for business, it will be worth our effort and money every time.
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