Now I know what you’re thinking, “What!?! No! Disney Should Stop Buying Stuff!”. Well I’m going to simply go through this particular subject by analyzing the history of the relationship between Disney and Ghibli. I am also going to look at this from the perspective of business and from a fan perspective. It is a very interesting and debated subject since over the past decade many opinions have indeed changed.
Studio Ghibli was founded in Japan in 1985 by Hayao Miyazaki, Isao Takahata and Toshio Suzuki. The studio’s first film was 1986’s “Castle in the Sky” (Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind was actually produced at Toei but Miyazaki later acquired the rights) and since then the studio has been releasing hit after hit, masterpiece after masterpiece, being dubbed “The Disney of Japan”, even though Hayao Miyazaki had a completely different mindset then the legendary business man that was Walt Disney.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s Ghibli had issues trying to localize their films overseas in America. Nausicaa famously had a heavy edit when first released overseas called Warriors of the Wind by New World Pictures. They edited the film down and rewrote the dialogue and story, making it a completely different film.
It was after this experience Miyazaki and his producers became very hesitant to release films overseas. In the mid-90s Disney Executive Jon Roth sated “Miyazaki’s films feature the same kind of quality family entertainment that Disney strives to produce” leading to a partnership in 1996 as sole distributor after seeing films such as Castle in the Sky, My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service.
Things became interesting in 1997 with Princess Mononoke, Miyazaki’s first and only PG-13 film. The localization was handed over to Miramax and then studio head Harvey Weinstein (Yikes!) wanted to make cuts, but Toshio Suzuki famously sent a Katana to Miramax, and engraved on the sword in Japanese Kanji said “No Cuts” and they begrudgingly agreed.
After that, in 2001 with the release of Spirited Away, John Lasseter, a massive Miyazaki fan and then Head of Pixar, wanted to produce and English Release of the film. Lasseter quickly became close friends with Miyazaki and that relationship helped make the English release possible, earning the film an Oscar for Best Animated Feature in 2002. That success lead to Disney to localize newer uncut dubs of Ghibli’s previous films with all star casts and distributed future films such as Howl’s Moving Castle and Ponyo.
Sadly in 2013 Miyazaki announced his retirement (which he has since come back out of) and that lead to a full restructuring of the company, leading many animators to leave and founding a competing studio called Studio Ponoc as Ghibli would not release a new film for six years.
In 2017 Disney decided to not renew their partnership with Ghibli, around this time was when John Lasseter took a “leave of absence” and since Lasseter was usually the one who would renew it they failed to keep that partnership alive. Later that year distribution company GKIDS acquired the distribution rights.
As of right now the Ghibli films are no longer with Disney yet GKIDS still uses the Disney produced dubs and the films are now streaming on the Disney Plus competitor “HBO Max”. This shocked many fans as for years the brand had been associated with Disney.
So the question still stands, should Disney have bought Ghibli?
Well that is a hard question to answer. Yes Disney has bought quite a bit. They bought Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm and even 20th Century Fox, but many are tired of the spending and the acquisitions.
However, if we look at it from a different perspective there could be a different opinion.
With the 2013 restructure, and the studio not making that many films, the income of course would have taken a hit. Many animators left and fewer employees means fewer projects. In 2020 Goro Miyazaki, Hayao Miyazaki’s son, made the studio’s first 3D Animated film, Earwig and the Witch, which did leave much to desire lacking that classic 2D look.
Disney was closely associated with the brand, they had been for over 20 years until 2017. An acquisition not only would have preserved the library at Disney, but would provide the studio with funds and resources to make future projects.
If Disney had bought Ghibli they most likely would have put Goro in charge with Hayao as Studio Head and would provide the resources and manpower required, and similar to Pixar and Disney Animation they most likely would have been given full creative freedom. All future films would be released on Disney Plus and you would definitely see Ghibli characters at Tokyo Disneyland and in EPCOT at the Japan Pavilion.
Yes this is a difficult topic and a hard to ask question, but tell me, when Hayao Miyazaki finally does retire or pass away would you rather the studio die and the films get scooped up by another studio? Or would you rather see it kept alive making more films at the House of Mouse? That’s a hard question to answer in my opinion.
Pirates & Princesses (PNP) is an independent, opinionated fan-powered news blog that covers Disney and Universal Theme Parks, Themed Entertainment and related Pop Culture from a consumer's point of view. Opinions expressed by our contributors do not necessarily reflect the views of PNP, its editors, affiliates, sponsors or advertisers. PNP is an unofficial news source and has no connection to The Walt Disney Company, NBCUniversal or any other company that we may cover.