By Renee Longstreet,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Animated tale has environmental message; peril, sadness.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Strongly advocates for respecting nature as human civilization infringes upon wild animal habitats. Comments on value of peaceful means to bringing about change (vs. violence); different factions of Japanese raccoon dogs known as tanuki advocate differing points of view. To promote rights of wild creatures, the tanuki are depicted with feelings, spirituality, a capacity for love, friendship, and fun. Implores viewers to show empathy for other living beings.
Positive Role Models
Tanuki in positions of leadership are courageous, resourceful, and self-sacrificing and take steps to be well informed. Some push for violence to affect change, while others hope to rely on less destructive methods, preaching hard work and clever tactics. Human beings are seen as enemies of nature; they're portrayed as unaware of the damage they cause, callous about the wildlife they displace, sometimes greedy and mean-spirited. Tanuki consistently label them "cruel," "stupid," "heartless." Female tanuki are a part of the ruling elite and are shown respect.
Although fantastical in nature, the story addresses real issues in Japan. Supernatural elements reflect culturally specific folklore, like tanuki and kitsune, and non-Western religious practices such as Buddhism. Focuses on a community's struggle rather than a single individual's -- a departure from many American films. Female tanuki demonstrate leadership. Tanuki elders are shown to be active members of society.
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Violence & Scariness
Cartoon violence throughout. Alliances of tanuki fight one another with sticks, injuring many. When humans are recognized as the enemy, tanuki use multiple methods to try to stop destruction of their land. Vehicles are overturned, fires set, bridges damaged; three human workers are killed. One angry tanuki leader presses to "Kill all the humans" in several scenes. Tanuki, able to transform themselves into a variety of shapes and beings, become monsters (skeleton, dragon, teeth-bearing beasts) to scare the humans. Many tanuki die, either from starvation, road accidents, or traps. Narration describes their plight; visuals show multiple dead tanuki.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Springtime finds the tanuki with romance on their minds; they court, marry, and have offspring. The raccoon dogs depicted are tanuki of Japanese legend; they are drawn with visible testicles.
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Humans are frequently described as "cruel," "sick," "heartless," "mean." A tanuki encourages his peers to "Kill all the humans!"
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Products & Purchases
One crane reads "Hitachi."
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Tanuki engage in numerous celebrations; in some they consume drinks that appear to be alcohol. In one lengthy scene, two obviously inebriated men sit at a bar reacting to tanuki pranks going on behind them.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that the heroes of Pom Poko, a Japanese anime film by Isao Takahata (one of the founders of the prestigious Studio Ghibli), are raccoon dogs known as tanuki that can transform into anything and everything, particularly humans. The movie has an environmentally themed story about human invasion of wildlife spaces. The animals face lots of cartoon jeopardy and some scares as they try to stop urban sprawl. Colorful, fierce, and mythic monsters parade through scenes, and tanuki battle each other with sticks and fight their human enemies with elaborately destructive pranks. The tanuki are responsible for several human deaths and are themselves killed in great number (tanuki who have succumbed to starvation are seen stacked up; others are on-camera roadkill). Despite those issues and its nearly two-hour length, the film offers a unique experience that's funny, touching, informative, and even inspiring. Audiences will identify with the beleaguered creatures, who demonstrate courage, humility, and integrity. The movie implores viewers to show empathy for other living beings.
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Based on 5 parent reviews
Watch it over 2 or 3 viewings
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Great message, but a bit long
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What's the Story?
In late 1960s Japan, a housing shortage in Tokyo sends construction crews to the Tama Hills on the outskirts of the big city in POM POKO. Developers will put up thousands of new houses, hoping to accommodate the expanding population. But the Tama Hills have been the lifelong habitat of an extraordinary breed of tanuki, Japanese raccoon dogs. Legend has it that the tanuki are capable of magically shape-shifting, transforming themselves into any creature on the planet, even mythical ones. The tanuki know that for their species to survive in its natural home, the construction must be stopped. Led by an array of colorful, food-obsessed, fierce, and heroic leaders, the creatures embark on a multifaceted campaign to cut the development down in its tracks. The resident tanuki of Pom Poko unleash every kind of prank, battle, and scare tactic they can muster to stop their enemies. When at last it appears the tanuki may be able to delay the project but that human progress cannot be contained, they up the ante even further, willing to risk everything, even their lives.
Is It Any Good?
At nearly two hours long, with its sophisticated themes and the deaths of many tanuki (plus three human victims), this movie is best suited for older kids, tweens, and teens. The messages in Pom Poko are solid, as are the voice performances in the English dub, which features Clancy Brown, J.K. Simmons, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, and Tres MacNeille. Especially entertaining is the narration by Maurice Lamarche. The animation is original and delightful, a Studio Ghibli trademark.
Still, the tanuki's antics are repetitive. They play tricks, they celebrate, they mourn, they give up, they try again. It's understandable that the filmmakers wanted to fully develop the environmental issues, provide in-depth characters, and offer an informative look at both the real animals and the Japanese legends that are attached to them. Although each element is successful, the sum of the captivating parts isn't entirely so. And, though true to nature, the extensive animal deaths may be upsetting, particularly for younger kids.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about the popularity of environmental stories. Do you think such stories make a real contribution to our attitude about nature and our planet? Did Pom Poko change any of your ideas or enrich your knowledge of wildlife habitats? What other environmental movies have inspired you?
Describe the differences between mainstream Western animation (from Disney, Pixar, and so on) and Japanese anime. Are there cultural aspects in Pom Poko that were unfamiliar to you?
Explore the Japanese legend of the tanuki, shape-shifting raccoon dogs. Create your own legendary animal character. What powers could that animal have? How might it protect itself from predators and trespassers?
How do the tanuki in Pom Poko demonstrate courage, empathy, humility, and integrity? Why are these important character strengths?
- In theaters: July 16, 1994
- On DVD or streaming: August 16, 2005
- Cast: Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Clancy Brown, Tress MacNeille
- Director: Isao Takahata
- Studio: Studio Ghibli
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Science and Nature, Wild Animals
- Character Strengths: Courage, Empathy, Humility, Integrity
- Run time: 112 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: violence, scary images, and thematic elements
- Last updated: March 6, 2023
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