Disney and Studio Ghibli: Coming Soon to a Theatre Near You...

Earlier this year, I wrote a dissertation discussing Disney’s 20 year relationship with Studio Ghibli. Later that year, I followed that with an analysis of the dubbing Disney did for their films. Now, in an attempt to complete the trilogy, I figured I’d discuss Disney’s trailers for Studio Ghibli.

Like with my last piece, I’m setting a single rule: Disney had to have had a hand in the marketing. This means that grey areas, like Princess Mononoke, still count, as the full distribution rights reverted back to Disney once their partnership with Miramax ended. This’ll also only cover the North American trailer of The Secret World of Arrietty, even though The UK did a spectacular job promoting the film in their own right. You ready?

I want to get out of the way something that I think’s been oft-discussed, yet frequently misunderstood: the tone of their marketing. Studio Ghibli are notorious for being slow-paced and meditative. This meditativeness, while a strength, meant that marketing the films here proved a challenge for Disney: how do you advertise a slow and meditative experience for an audience used to fast-moving, action-heavy storytelling? And how do you do it without compromising the integrity of the film in question?

The answer: not always successfully.

I happen to have a soft-spot for the Disney-Studio Ghibli trailers. They’re silly and often overlook the intent of the film(s) in question, but they have a charm I can’t ignore. I don’t like all of them, but even the bad ones have that charm. Then again, part of that could be that I was already 20 years old when I first discovered their movies, so I didn’t have years of pre-existing bias. However, in the interest of being fair, I’ll tackle my thoughts on each briefly:

What even is this mess? (Courtesy of retrotronic.)

We begin with this promo for Castle in the Sky. Ignoring the irony of its release window, the movie’s dub didn’t arrive here until 2003, this promo screams 90’s in a bad way. And I mean really bad. For one, the tone is everywhere, showing clips from the movie in an attempt, I think, to sell the film as a high-octane adventure. They might’ve been onto something, but not like this. Two, the narration doesn’t work. And three, I can’t help but giggle whenever I hear the line “featuring Dawson’s Creeks’s James Van Der Beek as Pazu”. Something about the delivery is ridiculous.

Fortunately, Disney’s release window got wider and wider due to complications, so by the time the dub actually arrived, the trailer’s tone had changed:

There we go! (Courtesy of DoReMiLand.)

See? Much better! It’s still silly, but at least the tone’s consistent and the clips chosen better. Plus, instead of that “featuring _” nonsense, the promotion focused on snippets of reviews of the movie. You could technically label that as propaganda, and you’d be right, but it’s clever advertising. If you want proof, look at how TV spots are structured these days. Chances are they have snippets of praise, right?

I’d say it’s pretty accurate. (Courtesy of beterhans.)

Around the time Castle in the Sky was slated for a VHS/DVD release, we got this gem to match. It’s interesting seeing the early days of these trailers, especially since Kiki’s Delivery Service, Castle in the Sky and Spirited Away received promotions from John Lasseter. Like the above, this is a well-made promo. My only complaint, and this is through no fault of the film, is that the dub opening and closing songs are featured here. I don’t like “Soaring” and “I’m Gonna Fly”, yet licensing issues meant that “Rouge no Dengon” and “Yasashisa ni Tsutsumareta nara” couldn’t be included until the film’s 2009 re-release. Oh well!

Heheh, “Mononokey!” (Courtesy of kindredweasel.)

Studio Ghibli also began making the rounds in North American theatres in the late-90’s. The first film was Princess Mononoke. In keeping with the tone of the film being darker than Hayao Miyazaki’s standard fare, the trailer’s pretty mature. The narrator has his serious voice on, and there are plenty of montage-cuts emphasizing the grim, violent nature of the movie. It also mentions the names of the dub voices without calling attention to them, which I like. Still, that mispronunciation of Princess Mononoke makes me laugh. Princess Mononokey makes a tokie smokey?

Yes, I’m immature.

I have a confession to make: I like this trailer more than the Japanese one. Said trailer’s too long, and it gives away almost the entire film. It’s really jarring when trailers do that, because then why see the movie? A good trailer should get you hyped for a film, not ruin it for you. Fortunately, the dub trailer’s concise and to the point.

Rest in peace, “In a world” guy. (Courtesy of kabamaRu1990yo.)

Of all the trailers here, this is my favourite. Not only because it has the late-Don LaFontaine narrating it, but because its editing and Japanese title cards punctuate the individual sections of the trailer. I’m not even sure if that was a Disney idea, but it works. It works the same way this movie works, and even 15 years after it debuted in North America, it still has the right tone for a film worthy an Oscar. I’d say check it out, but-wait, why am I recommending this trailer like it’s a movie?

Susan Egan makes everything great! (Courtesy of TheIdlingGeek.)

The success of Spirited Away quickly opened the floodgates for Studio Ghibli’s older work, hence this ditty, and the one succeeding it, being made. I’m aware there’s a variant of this trailer with a man’s voice, but it was only used once on the DVD of My Neighbors the Yamadas. And, to be perfectly honest, it wasn’t as good. Besides, I’d much prefer Susan Egan’s voice because it’s Susan Egan, and there’s something wonderful about hearing Megara from Hercules narrate a Studio Ghibli promo.

How’s the trailer? It’s good. It’s a promo for three of Studio Ghibli’s many films, and it divides itself into three part to focus on each. I like how the movies get their own tagline that sums them up succinctly: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is “Miyazaki’s epic masterpiece”, Porco Rosso is “Miyazaki’s soaring action-adventure” and The Cat Returns is “at last”. That last one might be a head-scratcher initially, but it fits when you stop and think about it. Either way, an excellent summation of what was to follow.

What was to follow. (Courtesy of TheIdlingGeek.)

If the previous trailer was an analysis of three of Studio Ghibli’s films, then this one’s a sweeping overview of everything Disney owned to that point. There are little details I can nitpick here and there, like how the two films from “master Isao Takahata” are his least-liked, but it’s a solid trailer. Every movie shown gets its time to shine, and it includes one of John Lasseter’s promos to sell the experience. It also manages to promote movies mentioned in earlier trailers without it feeling like it’s retreading. If the Spirited Away promo is my favourite trailer Disney’s done for Studio Ghibli, then this is my favourite DVD promo they’ve done.

An epic love story for all ages! (Courtesy of TheIdlingGeek.)

I happen to like, and dislike, this trailer for one reason: it feels standard trailer-house. I know that Spirited Away’s trailer wasn’t technically as well-edited, but it had a lot of effort put into its thematic structure. This, while more competent, is less-exciting. It also doesn’t get into the nitty-gritty of the film, which is for the best because, as I’ve stated before, Howl’s Moving Castle’s a mess narratively and tonally. It’s a love-or-hate situation here, but the movie was the same.

Meh! (Courtesy of HDtrailerMan.)

With all the talk of Studio Ghibli, it’s easy to forget their worst movie’s limited theatre run in North America. While Disney tried their best, this trailer doesn’t do much to save-face. Not only does the narration, the last that Don LaFontaine did for Disney before his untimely death, oversell the adventure while underplaying the boredom, but the trailer also doesn’t have much of a flow. I also don’t like how the tagline is ripped from the movie. It’s one of the film’s few good lines, and it sucks to see it used as a tagline for an otherwise-forgettable, waste of time. But I guess it’s too late to change that…

"This fish is getting her wish!” *Insert laugh track here* (Courtesy of Walt Disney Animation Studios.)

This trailer is messy. Tonally, it’s everywhere, and the narration, a cheap imitation of Don LaFontaine, quickly descends into classic Disney fare once the narrator gives up imitating the legend. But it’s fun nonetheless. It’s not unlike the movie in that regard: messy, silly, tonally-inconsistent, but still really fun. There’s a surreal charm to Ponyo that makes it more goofy kid’s fare than Miyazaki’s usual, and I definitely appreciate that the trailer didn’t try to play it up as anything else. Of course, I also like how the trailer uses a snippet of the film’s theme song. That’s a nice touch.

Overall, I give it a thumbs up.

*Sigh* (Courtesy of TheIdlingGeek.)

Here’s the one promo I didn’t want to discuss. To promote the then-release of Ponyo on Blu-Ray, Disney made another promo of four of Hayao Miyazaki’s films. It’s a shameless ploy to resell the Castle in the Sky and Kiki’s Delivery Service dubs alongside an unnecessary re-release of My Neighbor Totoro. The trailer itself isn’t terrible, but why resell My Neighbor Totoro when you’ve already sold it a few years prior? Castle in the Sky’s dub also got botched big-time, with not only its added lines being removed, but a re-institution of the original synth score (which, FYI, I was never a fan of.) Even Kiki’s Delivery Service, which returned its Japanese pop songs, suffered from terrible audio remixing. But I guess they wouldn’t tell you that in advance because capitalism, right?

Screw this promo!

Hee-hee-hee! (Courtesy of Disney Movie Trailers.)

I’m not sure what to make of this. I’m aware The Secret World of Arrietty had two trailers for its theatrical release in North America, but this one’s definitely more interesting. I appreciate that they finally ditched the narrator, and it’s definitely more artistically than some of the previous entries, but…why replace Cécile Corbel’s theme, which she translated into English for the UK release, with Sigur Rós Jónsi? It’s such a weird choice that, when factored with the trailer giving everything away, makes for one confused trailer. I guess it works, though?

“The Farewell Masterpiece”? Yeah, about that… (Courtesy of Movieclips Trailers.)

I recognize how weird it is now to say that this is Hayao Miyazaki’s “final film”, since he’s making another movie, but whatever!

Of all of the Disney-Studio Ghibli trailers, this is the best one objectively. It’s not my favourite, but it’s the best-edited, best musically-composed, best clip-selected and best length. I especially like how it doesn’t show the logo immediately, instead letting the atmosphere, which is completely dialogue-free, suck you in. That’s clever, and it’s wonderfully-punctuated by the sparse bits of text. It’s also reminded me of how some critics were a little extreme in their praise. I think “greatest movie the cinema has ever seen” is a bit hyperbolic, buddy! (Besides, that title’s reserved for Spirited Away.)

Overall, like the dubs that Disney did for Studio Ghibli, I think the advertising of these films was pretty decent. I don’t think they had as many home runs as they did in the dubbing department, but you could tell they were trying. Even the “bad” trailers, like I said in the beginning, had their charm, which is more than I can say for many trailers these days. I only hope GKids continues this legacy now that they have Studio Ghibli’s entire catalogue at their disposal; after all, it’d be weird if they-

0_0 (Courtesy of Madman.)

So that’s the direction they’re taking? Okay!


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