Fair Play – ideas for a birthday present for a 7 year old girl?
Short, and to the point! Why yes, we do have some ideas. In particular, a new movie. Maybe packaged with some cocoa or movie snacks. Perhaps we are projecting our own desires right now, sitting in our office while it is sleeting out. In any event, today we’re going to talk about a few films by Hayao Miyazaki, an extremely talented film director, writer, and animator. His films have a uniquely beautiful visual style and a thoughtful, methodical pace to the storytelling. He generally incorporates a cast of strong heroines and gender-fair roles. Today we’ll focus on three in particular that we think are good choices for a young audience (girls AND boys).
Kiki’s Delivery Service is a coming-of-age story. We watch Kiki, an apprentice witch, develop in character, emotionally, and in her magical talents. Kiki’s adventures take her to a seaside village where she must learn to do the witch gig solo. This film is the story of Kiki’s transformation from an inexperienced but courageous young teenage witch into an independent, resourceful, and responsible young woman witch. No sex, no violence, no princesses, and one strong female heroine. Just the other day, Fair Play Supermom was watching this with the four-year-old Fair Play (grand)Twins and everyone raved about it afterward on the phone with me. A beautiful, gender-fair film with all-ages appeal? We can’t recommend this enough!
Next on our list, My Neighbor Totoro is the charming tale of two sisters living in rural Japan with their father while their mother is in the hospital.
When the family first moves to the large country home, the girls fear the spirits in the woods. But, childish curiosity compels them to explore and they discover the spirits are quite friendly. Totoro is a giant bunny-shaped forest spirit with a benevolent purpose. He makes the wind blow and the trees grow, for example. When the girls want to visit their mother, he helps them. My Neighbor Totoro is a whimsical story of childhood adventure and exploration, conquering silly fears, and the importance of siblings. There’s nothing too sinister about the mother’s illness, so all of the themes in this movie are pretty tame as well. The sisters’ adventures will resonate with children and adults alike.
The third and most complex Miyazaki film I will recommend today is Howl’s Moving Castle.
In some ways, this story has a lot of the same gender-unfair tropes common in children’s movies, including an evil witch (the Witch of Waste), a charming gentleman character (the wizard, Howl), and a love story between the two main characters. But, Miyazaki turns gender roles inside out in the way I’ve come to expect of him. Sophie, our heroine, is turned into an old lady early in the story. Her power, therefore, comes not from a sexualized appearance but from her intellect and her empathy. Howl falls in love with her, and we can be sure it is not because she is the latest pretty princess to wander into his castle. Not only does Sophie bring order to Howl’s life, both literal and emotional, but she ends a violent war. This is a fairly violent movie as Fair Play’s children’s movie recommendations go, but it is such an interesting example of female power in a male-dominated setting, like war. It is certainly the scariest of the three movies we’ve discussed today, but definitely worth a watch.
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