I can imagine my parents growing up, thinking that Disney films were pretty cool. That great studio was practically unchallenged in the art of animation, and turned age-old stories into timeless classics that were forever enshrined in the countless VHS tapes of family homes.
But it didn’t really hit me until now, that I am now the same age that my parents were when they had me. I can imagine they must have had all the same thoughts that new parents do: what would I be like? What would be my favorite food? Would I play an instrument? Would I even like music? What if I couldn’t learn how to read right?
After all, this was the 1990s, with an economic boom, healthy families, and the turn of the tide in the waves of new technology just waiting on the horizon. It was also the absolute height of the Disney Renaissance period. “Beauty and the Beast” was first released mere months after I was born, and now I’ve lived long enough to see a live-action remake.
But it was also a time of media panic. Mature ratings on video games. Cartoons were becoming too urban, too violent. It was a time when censorship wasn’t just another c-word, but was something that was practiced in order to “protect the children.”
I didn’t realize until now how narrow of a selection I had as a child in terms of animated stories. All I really had was Disney and Don Bluth. But as I got older, and the new millennium was starting to wake up, there was another genre of cartoons emerging as I tiptoed into my teen years.
And it emerged from the east.
Sailor Moon. Gundam. Dragon Ball Z. Akira. This was a new revolution in animation that our parents were unfamiliar with. It was harder than Disney’s films, grittier and more dangerous, available every day after school thanks to channels like Cartoon Network. People seemed to be wary of anime, and that included anime films that were released. I remember as a child that my uncle had a giant poster from “Princess Mononoke”, and I was told I couldn’t watch it because I was too young.
We have all been exposed one way or another to anime, and some have embraced it while others “grew out of it.” Regardless of your decision, you must admit to yourself that it has still shaped your perception of the animation world and what stories could come of it.
It didn’t hit me until now, as the credits rolled on Mamoru Hosoda’s “The Boy and the Beast” that I am living in a privileged time of animation. That door that anime cracked open has been shoved apart, not just by Japan, but from Europe and the Middle East. Artists from all colors and backgrounds are embracing animation as a means to express the times we live in, and the times we wished we could go back to. They aren’t just drawn on paper anymore either, but are now strung together by code, or posed through clay figures. Even Legos.
I couldn’t help but realize that I am getting closer to having children of my own someday. I am the same age that my parents were when they had me, and that got me thinking…
What will I show my children?
The answer is everything.
I will show them the classic Disney films that I was reared on, and films from when Disney revived their old studio: “Tangled”, “Wreck-It Ralph,” “Zootopia”, and “Moana.” (The jury is still out on “Frozen”.)
I will show them Pixar’s evolution. How timeless that “Toy Story” still looks, to whatever new project they’ve come up with.
I will show them the unsung heroes of Dreamworks, like “Prince of Egypt” and “How to Train Your Dragon.” I won’t leave out the Don Bluth classics like “Land Before Time”, “An American Tale”, and “All Dogs Go to Heaven”.
I will show them works from abroad, like “The Secret of Kells” and “The Illusionist”
And even give love to the stop-motion animated works, like “Chicken Run”, “Wallace and Gromit”, “Corpse Bride”, “The Boxtrolls”, and “Kubo”.
But I am more than excited to show them my muses from the East. I will drench my children in Miyazaki’s vast fantasy worlds: “Spirited Away”, “Porco Rosso” and “Howl’s Moving Castle.” I will show them the absolute limits that hyper-realistic animation can be pushed, through Makoto Shinkai’s work: “5 Centimeters Per Second”, and the incomparable “Garden of Words.”
But even more than those two, maybe even before I show a single second of Disney footage, I will show them Mamoru Hosoda’s films.
I have yet to come across a single one of his personal works that I didn’t connect with on some level. He is a master at taking a life scenario we can all relate to and adds a fantastic element to it. His stories don’t take place in Hayao Miyazaki’s wild imaginary lands, or Makoto Shinkai’s thoughtful reflections on life at a train station. Hosoda is a strange hybrid of the two, showing us again just how mysterious and undiscovered our world really is.
He shows us close-knit families, the challenges of motherhood, being torn between two halves of ourselves, and to be careful what we wish for. But he also showed us sentient cyber beings, wolf children, a time traveler, and a boy raised by a monster.
To some people, they wish they could travel to the worlds of Disney and Pixar, or maybe even leap into a Miyazaki film. But in Hosoda’s movies, they already take place in our world, and we wonder if he saw something that we may have missed.
Clearly, this isn’t the 90s anymore. We no longer have to struggle with VHS tapes, or have a lonely selection of works from two animation studios. The whole world of animation has exploded, and it’s more than just an oyster, available at the click of a button and a strong WiFi signal.
The animated films I grew up with are the ones that have had a lasting impression on me. They’re what I draw inspiration from for my own stories. I wonder what mark that future animation will leave, and what my future children will take from them.
But it won’t start with a mouse. It will begin with the work of Mamoru Hosoda.
Want to know more about Mamoru Hosoda’s works?
- Check out my reviews on “Wolf Children” and “Summer Wars.”
- Watch a YouTube analysis on Hosoda’s excellent use of camera movements in his films: