Oh, how to describe Panda! Go, Panda! Originally released in 1972, it’s not technically a Ghibli film, with its sequel released in 1973, a little over a decade before the founding of the studio. However, they are the product of director Isao Takahata with screenwriting, storyboarding, and animation by Hayao Miyazaki, which gives it that distinctive Studio Ghibli feel. Most people tend to include Panda! Go, Panda! in the works of the famous studio for this reason, and in my oh so humble opinion, those people are correct in doing so. After all, these two short films were precursors to the beloved My Neighbor Totoro.
Panda! Go, Panda! is a set of two animated shorts that revolve around Mimiko (Kazuko Sugiyama), a lively girl living alone while her grandmother travels to Nagasaki to attend a memorial service. When she returns home from taking her grandma to the train station, she finds that a baby panda, Panny (Yuko Maruyama), has emerged from the bamboo forest around her home. She takes him in without hesitation, and after a while, Papa Panda (Kazuo Kumakura) arrives at her door to visit them. He offers to be Mimiko’s father, and Mimiko offers to be Panny’s mother, and thus starts their adventures.
The first film shows the family dealing with a number of people who are trying to return Panny and Papa Panda to the zoo. The commotion causes Panny to be separated from Mimiko and Papa Panda, and the chase becomes a rescue mission as they try to save Panny from falling through an open floodgate. They manage to save the baby panda and the two pandas agree to go back to the zoo, under the condition that they can leave at night to spend time with Mimiko.
The second film, formally called Panda! Go, Panda!: The Rainy Day Circus, starts off as a Goldilocks-esque tale as Panny realizes someone has eaten his porridge and slept in his bed. Upon closer inspection, the family finds a baby tiger named Tiny (Yoshiko Ota) has taken up residence in their home! He has escaped from a traveling circus that just arrived in town, and the family works to reunite him with his mother. They receive tickets to the circus for their trouble, but that night, it begins to rain, and soon the whole city is flooded. Mimiko, Papa Panda, and Panny are sent a message in a bottle from Tiny asking for their help, and soon the family embarks on a mission to help their circus friends.
The film is rather charming. In true Miyazaki style, it’s whimsical and youthful, feeling like you’re watching a child play house with their stuffed animals. The visuals and design closely resemble that of My Neighbor Totoro, with lush green landscapes and soft characters. It’s a great match with Masahiko Satoh’s breezy score, which is equally playful, bright, and traditionally cartoony.
Panda! Go, Panda! is a set of films that are funny, lighthearted, and sweet anime from a very different, but still highly enjoyable era. The animation remains wonderful, just as full of upbeat music and adorable antics, and in this case, digitally remastered to help clean up artifacting and dust from the original 1970s versions. Though relatively short – just 71 minutes for both movies – and far from the more produced, grandiose anime movies of today, it’s well worth a watch for fans of Studio Ghibli, Hayao Miyazaki, or of animated movies in general.