Panda! Go Panda!
By Tara McNamara,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Classic anime is charming but quirky; pipe smoking.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Approach life with optimism and self-sufficiency. You can find family beyond blood relations. Themes include compassion, curiosity, and courage.
Positive Role Models
A little girl is capable of taking care of herself and her friends all by herself. All characters are cheerful, easygoing, open-armed, conscientious of others, and loving. No one complains or blames others.
Set in Japan and made by legendary Japanese animators. Lead character Mimiko is depicted as White. Other characters are either more clearly Japanese or ethnically ambiguous.
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Violence & Scariness
Characters are often in peril and sometimes knowingly put themselves in harm's way, including being face to face with a tiger, going over the edge of a rushing waterfall, being pulled underwater in a flood, being onboard a runaway train. But characters are only clearly distressed in one of those scenes. Acting like a parent, Mimiko warns Panny that if he comes to school with her, she will spank him. Mimiko's guardian leaves her home alone for weeks, but in this fantasy world, this seems to be OK.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Mimiko likes to do handstands, and her dress flips up, revealing her underwear.
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Insult words: "dumb," "stupid."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Papa Panda smokes a pipe and makes statements about how much he enjoys it.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Panda! Go Panda! is early animation from Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, who would go on to found Studio Ghibli. This review is of the 50th anniversary release, which pairs two shorts: 1972's Panda! Go Panda! and 1973's Rainy Day Circus (reviewed in the original Japanese, with English subtitles). The main character is a young girl named Mimiko (voiced by Kazuko Sugiyama), who's left alone when her grandmother goes out of town -- but this isn't frightening for the girl. Rather, she's excited, cheerful, and confident about proving her self-reliance. Still, she tells everyone in her village, including the police, that she'll be home alone, and she mentions how she hopes to meet burglars. When Mimiko meets a father and son panda, they decide to be a family. Mimiko takes the mothering role, and she tells Papa Panda how to be a father -- e.g., go to work and smoke a pipe (which Papa mentions he quite enjoys). Mimiko likes to do handstands, and her dress flips up, revealing her underwear. The trio go on adventures and are often in peril, but there's only one scene in which everyone is truly panicked about the danger they're in. (Of course, it always works out just fine.) Themes include compassion, curiosity, and courage. Insult words "dumb" and "stupid" are used.
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Panda! Go Panda!
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What's the Story?
Written by Hayao Miyazaki and directed by Isao Takahata, PANDA! GO PANDA! (paired here with another short called Rainy Day Circus) follows a young girl named Mimiko (voiced by Kazuko Sugiyama), who's entrusted to stay by herself when her grandmother needs to go out of town for several weeks. After she meets father and baby pandas who've escaped from the zoo, the trio decide to become a family.
Is It Any Good?
It's remarkable and downright fun to look back at Miyazaki and Takahata's early work, which was originally produced 12 years before they founded the legendary Studio Ghibli. Kids fascinated by anime may enjoy seeing the early output of these two modern-day powerhouses. And the two "Adventures of Panda and Friends" stories bundled for Panda! Go Panda!'s 50th anniversary release are absolutely adorable. Mimiko is the shiniest ray of light, Papa Panda is so chill and go-with-the-flow, and Panny is cute and sweet. The trio are the very embodiment of love. (It's worth noting that, at the time, Miyazaki and Takahata were working on a Pippi Longstocking film that was never given the green light, and there's no doubt of Mimi's design influence.)
All of that said, the story is a jaw-dropper because of the way storytelling, filmmaking, and childrearing have changed since the 1970s (which was also the height of a "panda craze" thanks to China loaning two giant pandas to the Ueno Zoo in Japan). Grandmother leaves Mimi home alone for what appears to be weeks, if not a month. Mimi tells everyone she happens upon that she'll be staying home alone for a long time, and no one bats an eye. When someone knocks on the door, she tells them to come in without seeing who it is. Mimi is hopeful that burglars will break in, and when home invaders do come, she's delighted. Her underwear peeks out of her skirt for most of the film, and she's constantly doing handstands, with her dress flipping over her head, exposing her belly and underpants. It's all very much like a little girl, but it can feel surprising to see it when viewed through a modern lens. What's not surprising is that, with no human supervision, Mimi enters into danger constantly -- like walking into a tiger's cage, jumping into a torrential waterfall, or even just leaving the stovetop burning. But that can provide you with an opportunity for your kids to identify what Mimi is doing wrong and what they should do if they end up home alone. Children and fans of anime are likely to get a kick out of the film, and the catchy theme song will bounce around your brain for days.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about Mimiko's trusting nature and what we need to do in real life to stay safe when we're home alone. While Mimi demonstrates that she's self-reliant and independent, does her lack of life experience put her in danger?
What references did you notice to other children's stories? What's the difference between plagiarism and a knowing reference?
How is Mimi "playing house" with Papa Panda and Panny? If you were to instruct someone how to act like a parent, what would you tell them?
If you've seen other Miyazaki-Takahata films, what hallmarks do you spot in this early work? What are the specific similarities in My Neighbor Totoro?
How do the characters in Panda! Go Panda! demonstrate courage, curiosity, and compassion? Why are these important character strengths?
- In theaters: May 6, 2022
- On DVD or streaming: June 21, 2022
- Cast: Kazuko Sugiyama, Kazuo Kumakura, Yoshiko Ôta
- Director: Isao Takahata
- Studio: GKIDS
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Adventures, Wild Animals
- Character Strengths: Compassion, Courage, Curiosity
- Run time: 72 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: August 18, 2022
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