A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that unlike other Studio Ghibli productions, which are in the Japanese anime style, this one is all minimalist, cartoon-strip animation. The movie follows a multi-generational family of five in several short episodes focused on a specific theme or particular family member. Some kids may be disturbed when Nonoko is accidentally left behind at a mall and when bikers briefly threaten the family, leading to a motorcycle chase. The language occasionally includes quick insults like "stupid" or "shut up," and the father is shown smoking cigarettes in a couple of stories. Although there's no romance, there are references to Noboru's first crush and a gossipy conversation between the grandmother and her friend about a possible affair.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Meet the Yamadas, a kooky family of five: impatient father Takashi (voiced by James Belushi), frazzled mom Matsuko (Molly Shannon), easily embarrassed son Noboru (Daryl Sabara), mischievous daughter Nonoko (Liliana Mumy), and feisty grandmother Shige (Tress MacNeille). In several short vignettes, the family deals with dramas large (accidentally leaving Nonoko behind at a mall; Shige realizing her good friend is hospitalized) and small (kids leaving their homework; Matsuko not knowing what to make for dinner; Noboru experiencing his first crush) with their own comical flair.
Is it any good?
It's not for everybody, but fans of Studio Ghibli animation should definitely check out MY NEIGHBORS THE YAMADAS for something a little different. If this were a television series with just one or two short stories an episode, it would be easy to marvel at the spare animation and fully immerse yourself in the Yamadas' sitcom-meets-Japanese-family foibles. But strung together in a 1 hour-and-45-minute-long film, the various stories start to drag, even though individually they're compelling and humorous. Children (and adults) with short attention spans may only be able to watch a couple of stories before wanting to reach for the fast-forward button. Those willing to stick it out, however, will be treated to a unique look at the ups and downs of family life.
The English-dubbed version features familiar voice actors, like Belushi and Shannon, who are entertaining as the bickering parents. Simpsons veteran MacNeille (who's responsible for several characters, including Mrs. Skinner, Brandine, and Lindsay Naegle) is especially notable for evoking how simultaneously curmudgeonly and clever the grandmother is in all the segments. Although it's strange at first to see a Studio Ghibli film that isn't anime, the watercolor palette and minimalist style is perfectly befitting the family's quirks.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how different the animation and storytelling technique is in this movie than most animated films.
How does this movie compare to Studio Ghibli's other movies? Do you prefer the Studio Ghibli movies featuring one central protagonist, or do you like this whole-family approach?
Unlike most kid-friendly movies, this is a more episodic story than a continuous beginning-middle-end plot. Is it harder to sustain interest in a movie where there are several shorts rather than one plotline?
- In theaters: July 17, 1999
- On DVD or streaming: August 16, 2005
- Cast: James Belushi, Molly Shannon, Tress MacNeille
- Director: Isao Takahata
- Studio: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Brothers and Sisters
- Run time: 104 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: for mild thematic elements.
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