By Tatiana Miranda
Before the creation of Studio Ghibli and its groundbreaking animated films such as My Neighbor Totoro, there were the early animated projects from Ghibli co-creators Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki‘s filmmaking careers. In 1974, they worked on the hit animated series Heidi, Girl of the Alps, and then nearly ten years later, they co-created Studio Ghibli, where they would create plenty of well-acclaimed animated features. Well before the height of their careers and after leaving Toei Animation, they worked together to make two animated shorts, Panda! Go, Panda! and Panda! Go, Panda!: Rainy Day Circus. For these shorts, Miyazaki debuted as a writer, and Takahata utilized his new skills in directing. Their collaboration on the Panda! Go, Panda! shorts paved the way for their eventual collaboration when creating Studio Ghibli.
Made during the height of the panda craze in Japan during the seventies, Panda! Go Panda! took inspiration from many different popular influences at the time. The plot’s fairy tale themes are similar to that of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” particularly in the second short, Panda! Go, Panda!: Rainy Day Circus. The short film opens with circus employees searching the main character Mimiko’s house for their lost tiger. As they search, they grow increasingly anxious to discover who lives in the house as they come across the overly large items meant for the anthropomorphic panda character PapaPanda; this is similar to Goldilocks examining the different sized items in the three bears’ home.
Mimiko’s character design, such as her bright orange braids, take influence from Pippi Longstocking, which Takahata and Miyazaki had been working to adapt into an animated series. While some designs are remnants of scrapped projects, others would become an inspiration for later animated films. For example, PapaPanda, the large panda father to baby panda Panny and father figure to Mimiko, has very clear similarities to the design of Totoros from My Neighbor Totoro. Mimiko’s clothing is also very similar to that of Mei and Satsuki from My Neighbor Totoro.
Beyond being an insight into the development of later animated films by Miyazaki and Takahata, Panda! Go, Panda! is also an enjoyable watch in itself. These shorts make the most of their thirty-minute run time, with unique characters and adorable design choices matched with a simple but captivating plot premise. The first installment introduces Mimiko, a young orphan who is fiercely independent, as she creates a makeshift family with anthropomorphic pandas PapaPanda and Panny. These characters have an air of childlike wonder to them as they go on adventures, saving Panny and, in Panda! Go, Panda!: Rainy Day Circus, saving their new circus friends. Compared to later works by Miyazaki and Takahata, the plot of Panda! Go, Panda! is self-explanatory and straightforward, although one could infer something deeper about the forced entrapment of anthropomorphic animals that reoccurs in both shorts.
Almost fifty years after its initial release in 1973, Panda! Go, Panda! has the same charm as modern animated shorts. Currently, a digital restoration of both shorts is being shown at select US theaters just in time for a new DVD and Blu-ray release on June 21.
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