True Love: Classic Disney vs Studio Ghibli

By Sarah Levesque (Rated G)

I’m just going to come out and say it… I think that, on the whole, Ghibli Studios has a better understanding of true love than classic Disney. Most of the classic Disney movies have this idea that true love is when you find Mr. or Mrs. Right – often falling in love instantly – and live happily ever after. Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast, Enchanted, and who knows how many other classic Disney movies fit this mold.

Now I know what some of you are thinking: What do you think true love is if not romantic love that lasts forever? Well, I think true love is Agape love – wanting what’s best for another, consistently putting another person before yourself, accepting their weaknesses and strengths, and holding them up to a high-but-realistic standard, as Christ did. Over and over again we see him putting people before himself as he taught and healed when tired and hungry. Over and over again he accepted people as they were. He forgave their sins and encouraged them to overcome their failures, to be better, to become more. “Go and sin no more”. High expectations, indeed. And of course, He died for the sins of all mankind, that we may have the chance to be with him in eternity. If you confine true love to romantic love, Christ – the epitome of love Himself – is discounted.

On the other hand, Studio Ghibli (whose distribution rights have been owned by Disney since 1996), portrays true love as selfless love between any two characters. This is pointed out directly in Ponyo and in Howl’s Moving Castle, but also alluded to in many other Ghibli films, where siblings or friends often go to great lengths to help each other, sacrificing their wants, needs, and safety for the other.

This is not to say that no Disney movies have these characteristics. Many classic Disney movies have family and friends helping each other. Some, like Beauty and the Beast, have characters holding each other up to a higher standard. Some even show characters sacrificing themselves for others, such as Mulan and Belle sacrificing themselves for their fathers, or King Triton sacrificing himself for Ariel. But these movies still don’t call this true love, portraying that as strictly romantic. The exceptions I have seen are Frozen and Brave, which each did an excellent job portraying familial love as true love. These stand up with the Ghibli movies in this respect. And let me say again that many classic Disney movies have scenes of true love between various characters, but the movies don’t imply that this love is also true the way Ghibli Studios, Frozen, and Brave do. Now I haven’t seen every Disney movie, and there may be more examples from classic Disney. But I’m hoping these two Disney princess movies are the beginnings of a shift away from the idea that love must be romantic to be true. I’m not going to hold my breath, though.

One thought on “True Love: Classic Disney vs Studio Ghibli

  1. Although I am not familiar with Ghibli Studios, and I am not up to date on movies at all, the thesis as developed works excellently without them. This is an interesting, thoughtful essay, and can be applied to any work of art predicated on love. Well done!


What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s