Best in Show (2000)

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Christopher Guest directed movies are different than the usual movie you see.  The group of comedic performers he has on hand include remarkably talented improvisational actors/comedians who are quick on their feet and can create stories on the spot.  There have been several Christopher Guest films in this style and Best n Show was one of the best.

Best in Show brings a group of eccentric characters and their dogs, invading the Mayflower Kennel Club Dog Show for the annual Best in Show dog show.

The troupe that has been in several other Christopher Guest films included Michael McKeon, Eugene Levy, Parker Posey, Catherine O’Hara, Bob Balaban, John Michael Higgins, Don Lake, Jennifer Coolidge, Jane Lynch, Larry Miller, Ed Begley Jr., Linda Kash, and the recently deceased Fred Willard.  This group of actors have been in several other films of the same sort (from Waiting for Guffman to A Mighty Wind to For Your Consideration and even the Rob Reiner directed This is Spinal Tap).  In these films, the actors are giving information about their characters, but not a written script to follow.  The dialogue is created by the actors as they play off each other in a style of creativity unlike most films you see.

Filmed as it is a “mockumentary,” Best in Show follows these bizarre dog owners and their potentially zany behaviors during this high-pressure world of show dogs.  It is a hilariously funny film with these actors bringing the crazy.

There are also several beautiful dogs involved and dog owners would probably love this movie.

The late Fred Willard is amazing here as one of the announcers at the Mayflower Kennel Club Dog Show.  It gives him a great platform to provide his quick-wit and sharp humor.

Best in Show is a great film and it flies by quickly.  The pacing is great and the film is just laugh out loud funny.

goodstuff

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Blindspotting

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Blindspotting had been placed on my “to watch” list for the summer after I saw Dan Murrell’s video featuring all of his blu-rays.  It sounded interesting, but it was not until I watched Hamilton on Disney + and was awed by the performance of Daveed Diggs as Thomas Jefferson that this film bumped to the front of the list.

Long time friends Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal wrote and starred in this film that dealt with some big time racial issues as well as a friendship and how far a friendship can be pushed.

Collin (Daveed Diggs) has just gotten out of prison and is on probation.  He met up with his lifelong friend Miles (Rafael Casal), whose volatile nature threatened to place Collin back in trouble.

When Collin witnessed a police shooting, the pressures of his life began to engulf him.

Daveed Diggs is a superstar in the making.  He is just spontaneous, quick-witted, charismatic and simply glows on the screen.  He is one of those actors who you cannot wait for what he does next and his performance here is powerful and poignant.

The story has so much going on that you can feel the weight each moment places on Collin.  As an audience member, you can sense how each situation drags Collin down more and more.  You are just as frustrated with Miles because you see how destructive he can be, but you know the connection between them is special.

There are some uncomfortable moments that range from feeling uncertain to downright fearful and these moments work extremely well.  You are never quite sure what was going to happen next and, while you are on this path, you are remarkably entertained.

I’m not sure how I missed this film in 2018 because I thought it was fantastic.  I remember seeing trailers for this, but it is possible that it did not come to any of the local theaters I attended.  Either way, if you have a chance to watch this, the film is tremendous and amazingly relevant.

vintage

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1776 (1972)

1776 (1972) - IMDb

Happy Fourth of July to everyone.

I had decided to revisit a film that I saw years ago, but that fit perfectly in with the intention of the day.  1776 was a comedy/drama/musical that adapted a Broadway stage play of the same name.  I can remember seeing this as a younger man and not truly understanding what was going on.

The musical details the days proceeding the approval of the resolution of independence up until the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  Of course, the film takes plenty of liberties with the actual facts involved in the Continental Congress, but none of these historical inaccuracies should be worrisome.  This is not a documentary.  It is a piece of entertainment and thus is more concerned with the drama of the situation than the complete truth.

However, it was stated that much of the dialogue in the film came, over the years, from letters and correspondences from the individuals in the Congress.  Some of the characters were given traits and characteristics derived from these notes.

Our main characters involved here include John Adams (William Daniels), Dr. Benjamin Franklin (Howard Da Silva) and Thomas Jefferson (Ken Howard).  Adams, considered “obnoxious and disliked,” was the driving force behind the resolution for independence.  Adams and Franklin seemed to have a fascinating relationship played through the film with some good humor.

In opposition to the resolution was Pennsylvania Congressman John Dickinson (Donald Madden).  The film does a very good job of creating an air of conflict within the body that builds tension throughout.  I found myself unsure of the outcome despite clearly knowing my American history.

As a musical. I would venture to say that most, if not all, of the songs are catchy and entertaining, yet very unmemorable.  In fact, as I type this up, none of them are songs that remain in my head.  I did enjoy the humorous song “But, Mr. Adams”  as performed by Adams, Franklin, Jefferson, Roger Sherman (Rex Robbins), and Robert Livingston (John Myhers).

With today’s world as it is, the sequence involving the debate over the slave trade language in the Declaration of Independence was an uncomfortable section to watch.  The song, “Molasses to Rum” as sung by South Carolina Congressman Edward Rutledge (John Cullum) was legitimately tragic and spoke to the long time basis for the systematic racism included in the very birth of the USA.  While this is one of the scenes that the timing of in history is inaccurate, the movie scene is undoubtedly compelling and powerful and one where the general humor found throughout most of the movie is appropriately suspended.

1776 is engaging and light-hearted, until it isn’t.  It does a solid job of balancing these tones and keeping the movie moving at a solid pace.  Unfortunately, the music is pedestrian, especially when compared to other musicals (such as Hamilton, a film placed in the same general time frame).  Still, much of the film provides a smile and a fun time.

funtime

1776 (1972) - IMDb

Cabaret (1972)

Cabaret (1972) - IMDb

One more musical tonight before the big Hamilton release tomorrow is one that I had not seen before, but had a couple of great songs that I had always liked.  It was a multiple Oscar winning musical called Cabaret.

Berlin, 1931.  Weimar Republic.  Cambridge University student Brian Roberts (Michael York) arrived to complete his German studies.  He rents a room in an inexpensive rooming house where he can teach English.  At this rooming house, Brian meets Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli), a performer at the Kit Kat Club, a cabaret club run by the all-knowing Master of Ceremonies (Joel Grey).  Brian and Sally hook up and drama ensues.

Liza Minnelli staked her claim in the lead role as she was just brilliant.  She showed such range and an unbelievable amount of talent.  Then, Joel Grey, who played his role on Broadway, is the Greek muse of the 1930 German with the MoC.

The film deals with a ton of topics as well, from abortion to Nazism to antisemitism.  Plus, all kinds of sexual issues.  The controversy was gigantic for Cabaret and it did not shy away from anything.

Bob Fosse directed the film in his defining style.  He did win the Academy Award for Best Director for his work.  Both Minnelli and Grey won Oscars too.  Cabaret won 8 Academy Awards and became the film to have won the most Oscars without winning the Best Picture.

I enjoyed the film considerably and I was really impressed with the talent involved.

classic

Cabaret (1972) - IMDb

Chicago (2002)

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I have been looking forward to the arrival of Hamilton on Disney +, which is coming tomorrow and, to get in the mood, I chose to pick out a musical to watch.  After scanning through the list of musicals on Vudu, I stopped at the Academy Award nominated Chicago from 2002.

I had enjoyed Chicago when I saw it when it first came out and I especially enjoyed much of the soundtrack.  Although I prefer the version performed on the stage by Bebe Neuwirth, All That Jazz is a centerpiece of the show, here sung by Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger) was a wannabe star who attempted to use her body and sex to get ahead.  On the night that headliner Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones) killed her sister and husband, Roxie began an affair with Fred (Dominic West), who said he had connections.  When she found out that he was lying about that, she ends up shooting him dead.

Roxie wound up on Death Row with Velma.  While there, she pilfered Velma’s famous attorney Billy Flynn (Richard Gere), as they battled with each other over which case could be more big time..

The music in Chicago is fantastic and the dance routines are amazingly choreographed.  The design of the sets and each musical number was spectacular.  The film has a definite feel of a stage show.  The costumes were stand out and worked in every scene.

The three main stars of the film were on fire.  Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Richard Gere were amazing together and entertaining as these over-the-top characters.  There was also a impressive performances from John C. Reilly as Roxie’s sad sack husband Amos and Queen Latifah as prison guard Matron “Mama” Morton.

I did not expect to like this as much as I did the first time I saw it and this time was just as entertaining.  It certainly Razzle Dazzled me.

vintage

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Ocean Waves (1993)

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The next film in the Studio Ghibli watch is one listed as a TV movie and it was one that did not have the English dub.  Ocean Waves was the first Studio Ghibli film that was directed by someone other than Hayao Miyazaki or Isao Takahata.  It was directed by Tomomi Mochizuki and, according to Wikipedia, it was meant to be done by the younger crowd at Studio Ghibli.

The story focuses on two friends, Taku and Yutaka.  They had been friends for years, but they both fell for the same transfer student, Rikako.  As the triangle progressed, the friends found themselves pitted against each other for Rikako’s affection.

I was not fond of this film.  Of course, the animation is beautiful as always, so that gives these animated films a plus no matter what.  However, the character of Rikako was unlikable and irritating.  I had a difficult time buying the fact that she would be someone that either of the boys would give two hoots about.

The story was simple, but I had a hard time investing into the relationship.  Since I did not accept the relationship within the triangle, there was not much else here for me to care about.

The music was nice as this was the first score that I was able to hear in the original form (since I have been doing the English dub versions of these films).  It was nothing that really stood out, but it effectively created the tone.

This was a fine film, but way under the level that I have come to expect from Studio Ghibli.  This feels like a typical Lifetime movie.

meh

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Porco Rosso (1992)

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You’ve heard the one about when pigs fly, right?

Well, now I have seen everything.

Yes, the next Studio Ghibli film, once again from Hayao Miyazaki, is Porco Rosso, a film about an Italian World War I flying ace who has been cursed by being turned into an anthropomorphic pig.

That is what I said.

Porco Rosso is now a hired bounty hunter to track down air pirates.  Porco flies his recognizable red plane.  He winds up in a dogfight with an American pilot named Curtis.

I loved this movie.  It was the weirdest thing I have seen in a long time and it was funny, energetic and well written.  It has a feel of the old series called “Tales of the Golden Monkey.”

And to make it all the more awesome… the English dubbing on the Porco Rosso character was done by none other than Michael Keaton.  Seriously, could that be any cooler?

The flying scenes in this animation are just beautiful. The entire animation is amazing, much like all of the Studio Ghibli movies.

This one caught me off guard and I really had a lot of fun with this one.  There is a lot to this, even more than what you might guess about a sea plane flying pig.  If you have not seen this one, check it out.

paragon

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Only Yesterday (1991)

Only Yesterday | Studio ghibli movies, Ghibli, Studio ghibli

The next Studio Ghibli film is one that is quite different than the others.  This was not a magical fantasy with magical creatures.  No Tartaro.  No witches.  No Pandas.  It is just a story of memories, from a 27-year old girl to her younger years.  Memories that were basic, universal.

Unfortunately, again, the DVD was having issues with this movie.  It caused some glitches and skips around the one hour mark so I did miss a chunk of the story.

What I did see was an artistic masterpiece.  The animation was gorgeous and different than any of the previous films.  It fit the more realistic tone of the movie and was less of the style of anime.

It was a much more adult story and told a reflective story.  It is a coming of age story as well as a human drama.

Too bad I could not see the uninterrupted movie.

goodstuff

Only Yesterday | Studio ghibli movies, Ghibli, Studio ghibli

Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

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Hayao Miyazaki’s next film for Studio Ghibli turned out to be a charming and breezy film featuring a young witch named Kiki.

In Kiki’s Delivery Service, Kiki is a 13-year old witch and, in tradition with witch training, she leaves home to survive by herself for a year.  Accompanied by her black cat Jiji, Kiki finds a new town in which to live and, since she can fly exceptionally well on her broom,  starts up her own delivery business.  Unfortunately, Kiki has some problems with her own self-image and it causes her to struggle with her power.

This film is fun and very light-spirited.  While it is still a film targeting a younger audience, I actually found this much more entertaining , unlike the other Miyazaki films meant for young children.

Probably the reason behind that is the charming and friendly character of Kiki.  She is remarkably likable and filled with honesty and heart.  The new English dubbing version of the film has Kirsten Dunst voicing Kiki.  It also has Phil Hartman providing the voice of Jiji the black cat.

Here comes the regular animation comment.  It is absolutely beautifully rendered and could be considered a piece of art.  The animation seems to be getting better with every movie released by Studio Ghibli, which is saying something.

The plot of this movie is not that important.  This is a character piece, zeroing in on Kiki and her path to becoming a successful witch.  She has to deal with such problems as Tombo, a boy who takes an immediate shine to Kiki, weather challenging her delivery business and other kids who are keeping her an outsider.

Some of the supporting characters in this film are just sweet.  Osono and her bakery provides room and board for Kiki while her first delivery customer Melanie MacQueen becomes a close friend.

Kiki’s Delivery Service does not dive too deeply in the mythology of the world.  Everybody knows about witches and they are not seen as a negative thing.  In fact, most of the regular people look at Kiki with awe and amazement when she flies.   Most of the witch ideas such as the apprenticeship when she turned 13 are dealt with as if it is a known commodity.  That is not a bad thing, but it does not provide a world that is deep.

The film is sweet and charming.  The characters are enjoyable and easy to watch and the movie has some very positive messages of self-worth and friendship.

vintage

AFS Presents: KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE in Austin at AFS Cinema

My Neighbor Tortoro (1988)

Has Satsuki always had pigtails on Totoro movie posters and I just ...

The next Studio Ghibli film on the list in Hayao Miyazaki classic My Neighbor Tortoro.  This is one of the most beloved anime films in international cinema and, after seeing what had come before this on my DVDs, I was excited about seeing it.

Unfortunately, I was quite disappointed with this movie.

Yes, the animation is beautiful.  I have a feeling that when looking at all of these Studio Ghibli films, that is a statement that I can include in every review.

The story was sweet and I think that children would love this movie.  There is a touch of magic in the film and the two girl characters, Satsuki and Mei, are very relatable.  The story was simple and is more about the two girls than any plot points that happen in the film.  There was a fun moment at the bus stop, but other than that, I was unimpressed.

Much like Panda, Go Panda, I found Mr Neighbor Tortoro to be too much targeted toward the very young children and that there was not much here for the adult in me.

I also found what plot points there was here were fairly dumb.  I had a definite issue with Satsuki and Mei’s father, university professor Tatsuo Kusakabe.  He was one of the worst parents I have seen in a long time.  Things were happening right under his nose, as he was too involved in his work.  His children were disappearing and he just went about his business.

The whole plot point where Mei gets lost was so inane as well.  There were so many spots where I was just laughing at what was happening and the people’s reaction to the situation.

Beautiful to look at, great to listen to (with a wonderful score) but unengaging for me.  My Neighbor Tortoro was not what I had hoped it was going to be.

overrated

Has Satsuki always had pigtails on Totoro movie posters and I just ...

 

 

Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

GhbbliThe Truth About The Poster Of “Graves Of Fireflies”

I’m not crying…you’re crying…

Whoa, that was an experience.  Grave of the Fireflies was the next film in the list of Studio Ghibli movies, written and directed by Isao Takahata, and this one was a heart-aching tale of two young kids in Japan trying to survive the final few months of World War II.

Grave of the Fireflies tells the story of two young siblings, Seita and Setsuko, whose father was fighting the war and whose mother was killed in an enemy firebombing of their village.  This put brother and sister alone to face the struggles of life compromised by war.

We know what type of story this is going to be with the heart-wrenching opening to the film.  After that, the remainder of the movie is told in flashback, showing us how the situation arrived at what it did.

Older brother Seita took his little sister Setsuko to live with their aunt after the bombing.  The aunt was not a very empathetic individual towards the children.  In fact, there were not very many adults portrayed in this movie as being kind or helpful.  The adults could not find the time to help these children, showing that their own personal problems outweighed the needs of others.

Isao Takahata has claimed that this movie is not an “anti-war” film, but it would be difficult to argue that the themes of Grave of the Fireflies are not directly influenced from the consequences of the war and its effects on society and its point of view of the results.

The animation is haunting throughout the movie.  There were a couple of moments (Setsuko at the doctor) where I literally gasped at the images shown me.  The metaphor of the fireflies was both beautifully and painfully portrayed.

Grave of the Fireflies is unlike most animated movies you see.  It usually shows you the power of the underdog overcoming odds planted before them.  This film gives you the anguish of seeing the other side of that coin.  This is a masterpiece.

paragon

GhbbliThe Truth About The Poster Of “Graves Of Fireflies”

Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986)

CASTLE IN THE SKY (Studio Ghibli Fest 2018) | The Ridgefield ...

Laputa: Castle in the Sky was the first official animated film from Studio Ghibli, and it was one that I had a difficult time following, though it was not the film’s fault.

The DVD that I had had multiple glitches on it when I was watching this movie, especially about the first 20 minutes or so of the film.  That caused a real problem with understanding exactly what was happening and who these characters were.

Directed by EYG Hall of Famer Hayao Miyazaki, Castle in the Sky is a beautiful looking film, with amazing artistic animation and cool character design.

Once again, I have been watching these movies with the English dubbing done when Disney released these Studio Ghibli movies in the early 2000’s.  This film included the voice work of Mark Hamill, James van Der Beek, Anna Paquin, Cloris Leachman, Mandy Patinkin, Andy Dick, and the iconic Jim Cummings.

This tells the story of an orphan girl named Sheeta, kidnapped by government agent Muska, but rescued by young boy named Pazu.  Sheeta has a magical amulet that will lead her back to her ancestors home, a floating city of Laputa.  There is a race to find the city among a group of characters to gain the powers of the land.

Colonel Muska is a top notch villain in this film.  I love the work of Mark Hamill, who brings such a menace to his voice work.  I know that he was not the original voice, but he is such a great voice over actor that I cannot imagine that he did not make this better.

The film is beautiful to watch and has a lot of amazing action here too.  The finale is excellent and filled with drama.

It is unfortunate that the DVD did not work properly for me because this seemed to be another great animated film.

classic

CASTLE IN THE SKY (Studio Ghibli Fest 2018) | The Ridgefield ...

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984)

Buy Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (Subtitled) - Microsoft Store

Wow.

This was simply epic.

Adapted from a manga, written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is an utter masterpiece.  This film came out just prior to the actual creation of Studio Ghibli, but most consider this film to be within its list of animated fares.

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is a science fiction/fantasy film that takes place in an apocalyptic future where the earth had been blazed during the Seven Days of Fire, creating a poisonous forest named the Toxic Jungle, protected by giant insects and creatures called Ohm.

The remaining humans have formed into several communities around the land.  Princess Nausicaä is a beloved girl in the Valley of the Wind, who glides on the air like an eagle, and whose peaceful nature makes her a perfect communicator with animals and other creatures.

I love when a character is heroic and respects the lives of everyone.  One of the greatest thing about Spider-Man to me was how he would go out of his way to save anyone, even the villains who were coming to coming to kill him.  This is the same way I see Nausicaä.  She was putting her life on the line by trying to make everyone safe.  Early in the film, we see her give into the rage and how much of a kick ass hero she was.   Yet, from that point on, she decided that she would not lose control again. No more killing.  Killing enemies is the easy way and Nausicaä has gone to the hard way at every point.  She is a true heroic figure.

The version I watched was dubbed into English and featured voice work from Patrick Stewart, who plays Lord Yupa, another one of the most original and epic fantasy characters I have ever seen (and one of the most epic mustaches in animation history).  There is Shia LeBeouf, Frank Welker, Uma Thurman, Chris Sarandon, Edward James Olmos, Alison Lohman and Mark Hamill.

The animation of the film is beautiful.  There are times when I was just staring at the screen with my mouth open at the beauty of the images.  There may have been some choppy animation a few times, but the choppiness was easy to ignore when it was such a gorgeous artistic masterpiece.

Miyazaki does an unbelievably wonderful job creating the universe this story takes place within.  He reportedly wrote the manga it was based on too, but I had not read that, and I was able to follow the story without knowing it.

I was pulled into this story early.  Nausicaä is an amazing hero that was so easy to cheer for and her inspirational ideas make her a role model.  Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is suddenly one of my favorite animated movies of all time.

If you have not seen this before… find it.  It is worth the effort.

paragon

Buy Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (Subtitled) - Microsoft Store

 

Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro (1979)

Lupin the 3rd: Castle of Cagliostro (1979) - IMDb

Okay, I’ve figured out what is going on here.

After some further research, I realized that there are three movies included on this collection of Studio Ghibli films that actually preceded the start of Studio Ghibli.  There was the film Panda, Go Panda, which was where the two Studio Ghibli founders, Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, met.  And then there was this film, which was Miyazaki’s directorial debut.  Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro

This seemed to be one adventure in the life of master thief, Arsene Lupin III, called Wolf in the English dubbed version.

After a casino robbery, Lupin and his partner, Jigen Daisuke, discover that the money they had stolen was counterfeit.  So they resolved to find the counterfeit ring and take it over for themselves.  They discover that the culprit behind the fake money was Count Lazare de Cagliostro, who is preparing to marry the princess.

However, Lupin found himself in a place of familiarity and was determined to save the princess from the clutches of the evil Count Cagliostro.

After watching the Panda, Go Panda film, I had hoped that the list of movies that I was going to be watching was not going to be targeted to the really young.  That film felt like it was meant for 5-6 year olds, give or take.  It was not too long into the Castle of Cagliostro that I realized that my concerns would not be a problem.  The story was immediately a more mature type and there were a few moments in the animated film that I was shocked at what they showed. That was a relief.

The film was very funny, and full of excitement and charm.  All of these characters are warm and enjoyable.  Lupin was a captivating rogue and you really get to like the protagonist despite his criminal enterprises.   You knew there was a deeper reason for his desire to rescue the princess, but the film does a great job of keeping that tidbit for awhile.

Cagliostro was a menacing villain and seemed to be on the verge of success the entire time.  Everything this jerk does makes you want to see him get his at the end all the more.

From what I researched, apparently you can see a lot of Miyazaki’s style in this film.  Again, this was his directorial debut and it helped him move toward the Studio Ghibli collaboration.   There was so much goodness in this film that it has helped set up my excitement for what is coming next.

vintage

Lupin the 3rd: Castle of Cagliostro (1979) - IMDb

Panda Go Panda (1972)

Panda! Go Panda! (1972) - Where to Watch It Streaming Online ...

I have decided to start on my next summer watch, and that will be the Studio Ghibli films from Japan.  I had gone looking for a way to watch the films, which was harder than I thought.  I had planned on HBO Max, but there was trouble with that.  I did find a collection of DVDs on Amazon so I ordered them.

When they arrived, I took the first disc and started with the first film.  It was actually not on my first list of Studio Ghibli films.

According to Wikipedia, Panda Kopanda, which is the Japanese title, is translated officially into Panda, Baby Panda, but is known in North America as Panda, Go Panda.

This was a couple of short films featuring a young girl, Mimiko, whose Grandma left her, but she found a baby panda named Panny and his father Papa.  The three of them lived together in Mimiko’s house and hijinks ensued.

Doing some research, this was written by EYG Hall of Famer Hayao Miyazaki, who directed most of the Studio Ghibli films.  This was where he teamed up with Isao Takahata, and they would found Studio Ghibli.

Having watched this first collaboration, I will say that it is cute and sweet.  It would be very much for children.  I was not expecting this because it felt very much targeted at a very young child.  I had anticipated the animated Studio Ghibli films to be more mature in a sense and I certainly hope that this is not the path of the rest of these movies.

To be fair, I am sure that the target audience of this would love it, but for me, it was too childish.

However, there is a ridiculously catchy theme song- Panda Go Panda Go Panda….

Underwhelming

 

Panda! Go Panda! (1972) - Where to Watch It Streaming Online ...