Disney vs Ghibli: A studio comparison


Way back in 1928, audiences were enthralled as the black-and-white, animated short, "Steamboat Willie," made its theatrical debut. The rest as they say is Disney history. Perhaps you may know of the main character in that first film. He goes by the name Mickey Mouse. Of course you know him! Mickey is one of the most recognizable cartoon characters on the planet, I might go as far as to say he is THE MOST recognizable.

Walt, Roy, and the Disney staff went on to create a cast of characters who were so special, so beloved that continue to bring smiles to children of all ages, even some 50 years after Walt’s passing: Donald Duck (my favorite of course), Goofy, Pluto, Minnie, Daisy, Pete, Chip, Dale, and so many more.

In August of 1986, Ghibli studios released their very first feature film, "Laputa: Castle in the Sky" (though "Nausicaä" was released in 1984 before the actual studio was founded), and captured the imagination of a nation. Ghibli Studios has gone on to make a host of wonderful, animated features: "My Neighbor Totoro," "Howl’s Moving Castle," "Grave of the Fireflies," among others. Hayao Miyazaki’s Ghibli studio is one of the most well-known Japanese anime studios in existence today.

Earlier this year, I had a chance to return to the Ghibli Museum for the second time, and I think my second walk-through was even more memorable than the very first time. While I was strolling around, browsing through Miyazaki’s sketches and watching that animated, 3D Totoro diarama, it struck me just how different the Ghibli atmosphere is from the Disney one.

I have been to Disney Sea twice and to DisneyLand twice and of course a museum and an amusement park are an apples to apricots comparison, but even the Disney Studios features and Ghibli works evoke a completely different set of emotions when you watch them, right?


Disney specializes in cartoons and films that have that Disney pixie dust sprinkle ... the Disney magic. The movies take you out of the realm of what’s real, and for a brief moment, you have a chance to escape the stress and the trouble that exists in your world and join an animated, Disney protagonist on a wonderful adventure. Disney does a great stimulating the wonder muscles of your mind.

For example, with the Peter Pan cartoon (a revival an existing story) Peter, Wendy and their companions could fly with a little magic powder and a lot of belief. Or there was one of my favorite magical moments in the film "Sword in the Stone" when Merlin and Madame Mim had a Wizard’s Duel…CLASSIC! Disney animation doesn’t always have to incorporate magic to inspire wonder, but it helps. Watching a Goofy “How to Cartoon” has the same kind of Disney magic for a whole different set of reasons, usually because the cartoon is so entertaining.

Oh. Let’s not forget the Disney music. If I told you to sing “Under the Sea” right now, I know many of you, even if you don’t want to sing it, are playing the song in your head right now. "Whistle While You Work," of the Hi Ho (7 Dwarves) or Zippidy Doo Dah. I was singing "A Whole New World" just a few short weeks ago at karaoke. The songs are so catchy that it makes me wonder if DisneyLand has a secret cellar where they test the “catchiness” factor of their songs on theme park patrons.

In my head I see an unusually muscular, costumed Mickey snatching up poor unassuming visitor and take them to the music cellar to see how the Disney music effects the human psyche. I wonder if there are songs, that never saw that light of day, ones that drive people to their wit’s end. Once the test subject starts smashing their face in to the nearest wall, I’m sure the scientists are all like “Nope, guess we can’t use that song in the movie.”

Anyway, when you couple unforgettable Disney animation with catchy music, you get the formula for magical Disney feature films which are, by and large, feel-good films.


How about Ghibli? Ghibli films are special for other reasons. Ghibli Films may have feel good moments, but I wouldn’t say they’re “feel good” features. I think all of the Ghibli films I’ve seen deal with some type of loss or potential loss. In the "Totoro" film, the girls potentially could have lost their mother, or in "Grave of the Fireflies" (Dear God, that movie was sad), it’s the death (loss) of an entire family, or in "Howl’s Moving Castle," it’s the loss of youth.

I wouldn’t call these the main themes of the Ghibli films but it’s such a strong underlying theme that it affects the air of movie. As a result, Ghibli films tend to have a more serious ambiance than their Disney counterparts. Slightly more serious animated features aren’t a bad thing; it kinda makes the Ghibli movies what they are.

Ghibli films can be quite magical in their own right. The magic isn’t as “bippity boppety boo-ish” for lack of a better term, but it’s magical and memorable, nonetheless.

I think there are some really catchy Ghibli tunes that American audiences may not be aware of, but are wildly popular here in Japan, like Totoro’s theme, the “Aruko” song. Ghibli Studio employs some of the best orchestral talent that Japan has to offer, which make the films all the more memorable. I wouldn’t say all of the Ghibli song lyrics are catchy, but some of melodies can be.

Disney has been around for quite some time, and from it’s humble beginnings in the mind of a Kansas City boy, the animation and the company have truly evolved into a global phenomenon. In the beginning, Disney was best known for the the animated representation of the classic fairy tale with a happy ending -- "Cinderella," "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." The next evolution focused more on films that catered to Walt Disney’s specialty, animals personified: "Lady and the Tramp," "The Lion King," etc. The latest evolution has been a CGI (computer graphic image) craze.

Ghibli Studios really reignited my Japanese animation spark when I saw "Spirited Away." It was Chihiro’s journey that inspired me to watch more of the company’s feature films. For the most part, I’ve liked every film I’ve watched. Ghibli, however, lacks the diversity that Disney has. Disney has made so many different teams and so many different films that you can end up with a film that is markedly different from any Disney film you’ve ever seen. The Ghibli films are limited in the subjects they can cover, whereas Disney can literally draw from just about any story, or any genre in the world. "Snow White" and "Kung Fu Panda" are very different films. "Nausica" and "Princess Mononoke," though different, have a LOT of similarities.

Will the Ghibli films ever be as popular as the Disney ones? I highly doubt it. Disney is an animation juggernaut with staff and resources that Ghibli would have a hard time even thinking about matching.

However, you don’t have to be a juggernaut to make great animation. Film after film, Ghibli continues to prove that. No disrespect to Disney, because I love Disney films, but lately it seems like they’ve lost their way with the film market. There are so many films that employ the use of computer technology that they seem to be getting further and further away from the magic of hand-drawn animation ... the very thing that put them on the map. I LOVED "The Incredibles," "Finding Nemo" and "Monsters Inc." But I can’t remember the last time I saw an amazing, drawn Disney Cartoon.

Quiz time: 1. What is the best Disney animation of all time? 2. What is the best Ghibli animation of all time?

© Japan Today

©2023 GPlusMedia Inc.

Login to comment

Disney vs Ghibli: A studio comparison

They both make cartoons that all look the same.

End of comparison.

-8 ( +1 / -9 )

Disney: Lion King, Ghibli: Spirited away.

I agree with the over emphasis that Disney has recently put on CG movies and that they aren't magical any more. This fact reminds me of a recent article I read in Newsweek titled "Is play time over". I guess it was only children of the second half of the 20th century that had the luck to experience a "magical" childhood: children were different then. Before that, children were considered small adults and now adults are considered large children! I guess the realism in CG movies confirms this trend, compared to the magical aspects of hand drawn animations.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Disney: Up Ghibli: Princess Mononoke

There are similarities between “Nausica” and “Princess Mononoke” because as I understand it. Hayao Miyazaki (who wrote the Nausica manga) was thinking of retiring and so wanted to leave on an animated feature that had his main themes. The manga of Nausica which is brillant (and so much better than the anime) is Miyazaki's main manga work, iirc it took hm 10 years to finish. Princess Mononoke has the same spirit as the manga IMHO. After Mononoke Miyazaki didn't retire, as I understand it, because there was noone who could really take over from him....

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I think they target very different audience ranges; Disneys prime target is very young kids. There is the occasional little joke in there for adults, but nevertheless they remain mostly infantile. Some were very good, I enjoyed them myself. Ghibili I think targets a much wider bracket ; and as indicated above includes many real world themes of war etc, so many of the military etc are very reminiscent of WW2 styles......... They are both different types of escapism. I like both- though would find ghibili more engaging (the old ghibili anyway, not so sure about everything after Spirited Away). Disney has from the start had a wider ranging english speaking audience. I am more impressed with Ghibili, but I think they have peaked already, nothing wrong with that. All these disney cg cartoons..... they are too many, and no interest.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

What I don't understand about Studio Ghibli is why they insist on pronouncing their name 'jiburi' or I suppose 'Gibli'. Having gone out of their way to adopt the Italian name 'Ghibli' (a car produced by Maserati) in which the function of the letter 'h' is to harden the preceeding 'g' - so it is pronounced as in Ginza and not as in Gin & Tonic - why would they then ignore the rules of Italian pronunciation and come up with an abortion like that?

0 ( +1 / -1 )

why would they then ignore the rules of Italian pronunciation and come up with an abortion like that?

They do it with every other language, so why not Itallian?

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Ghibli - Original, unique, accessible to all ages (something I can watch with my kid without cringing and feeling insulted), often thought-provoking (often not a "happy ending").

Disney - Purile, derivative (most of them are rip-offs of classics... badly done and with the moral content stripped or preverted), Disney ending has become synoymous with happy endings.. regardless of how undeserving the characters were.

Oh, and not to mention that Disney, despite being 90% derivate of older works, still has the cheek to copyright classic stories, despite them CLEARLY being in the public domain.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Disney had decades of poor management and leadership in the animation division. For too long it was all about making money to appease wallstreet. Disney Animation actually fired John Lasseter, he went on to become the creative force behind Pixar. They would go on to pretty much shut down the entire 2D animation division.

It's only been recent history where Lasseter has become CCO of Animation for both Disney Animation and Pixar. Lesseter is a close friend of Hayao Miyazaki and is committed to bringing back 2D animation in all it's glory.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Disney: Lion King - I'd definitely say this is the best one, but Beauty and the Beast and Mulan are also really high up for me. Ghibli: Princess Mononoke - It's not my personal favorite but I do think it's the best one

I really love Disney's cartoon movies, even if they are a bit too "happy ending", because they really immerse you in a world of magic. I must be the only person in the world who doesn't like the 3D Pixar ones. I don't think they have the same element of adventure overall as the cartoon movies did - they lost the underlying serious element that the old ones had. Ghibli is a little more mature. It's not as "sparkles! in yo' face!" as Disney, and they have a lot more subtleties. It's almost hard to watch a Ghibli movie if you're hyped up on caffeine because they are a little slow-moving at times. That being said, I'd say critically they are overall better than Disney movies, stronger both thematically and with characterization.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Disney: Cars, Ghibli: Nausica

Disney ending has become synoymous with happy endings.. regardless of how undeserving the characters were. Oh, and not to mention that Disney, despite being 90% derivate of older works, still has the cheek to copyright classic stories, despite them CLEARLY being in the public domain.

Frungy, you are spot on.

I wasn't thrilled about the princesses when I was a child because of that, but caught on when Pixar came along. I love their original characters and stories. Good for merchandising too, which Disney loves.

The first time I saw Nausica was really inspiring, enough to read Miyazaki Hayao's original comic books. It was a totally different story from the movie, but he is good telling long tales short as he was with Howl's Moving Castle.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

You might want to mention Kimba, the White Lion as being the source for the Lion King, even if Disney tries not to. Also, you say Kung-Fu Panda is different to Snow White. Small wonder, as the Panda is from Dreamworks and not Disney (Katzenberg quit Disney to found Dreamworks). You might have mentioned that Disney now releases Ghibli video product to the world outside of Japan,(but not all the spinoff stuff like toys and t-shirts) so they are really in business together, these days. You list three Pixar films, and all Pixar feature films were released by Disney so they are Disney computer generated films. Disney has been using computers off and on since Tron and Great Mouse Detective, but all animation from Beauty and the Beast until now uses digital ink and paint. The hand drawn work is scanned, and from there on these films are computer animation. It took about ten minutes to check all this on the net, by the way. Try it sometime to improve what is more an opinion piece than imformation.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Oops, make that information, not imformation.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

ghibli does not hold a candle to Disney. I remember watching "Kokurikozaka" in 2011 and having eyestrain due to the animation moving at llike 11 frames per second. I watched Tarzan later in the week and was blown away by how fluid everything was after being used to the overall cheapness that is Japanese animation. Disney is now a major business that owns multiple movie, Tv, music and animation studios. Studio ghibli runs from a small office building with 300 employees. You can't compare the two. Ghibli had many successes over the years. It baffles my mind to see that they haven't expanded, and is still one small animation studio among the many in Japan. Korean animation studios have grown to Disney size and are producing disney quality animations in the same time period.

-7 ( +1 / -8 )

Disney doesn't hold a candle to Ghibli. Ghibli animations are beautiful. Simple things like when it starts raining are captured so well. I like watching them in Japanese because much of the dubbing lose something from the original (especially My Neighbor Tottoro).

Ghibli: Laputa Castle in the Sky (although this is a difficult choice).

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Early Disney films like Snow White (1930s) and Fantasia (1940s) were works of art. Recent Disney films are smarmy fluff, and they have no respect for either children's intelligence or their depth. They cultivate mediocrity. When Disney himself passed away, so did a lot of the magic, I think. Miyazaki is still fresh, and his work is still full of life. I hope when he passes on, some of his magic will continue.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I've always wondered.

Why do they pronounce "Ghibli" "jiblee?"

"gh" is usually pronounced like a hard "g' as in spaghetti.

Surely it should be "GIBLEE" with the "G" as in "great" "gin" etc.

-5 ( +0 / -5 )

I didn't put my point very well, do I get another chance?

"Gh" in English is always pronounced hard, like the "g' in "good."

For example:

Ghetto, Ghana, Ghost, Spaghetti.

Yet, "Ghibli" meaning the name of the animation company is pronounced "Jiblee."


I looked up Ghibli (not the name of the animation company) and found this:

"Ghibli - a hot, dry southerly wind of North Africa."

And the pronunciation?


I would like to know why this is.

Does anyone know?

-3 ( +0 / -3 )


The word is from Arabic, I think, but the pronunciation with a soft g sound is the way the studio wishes to pronounce it, so that's the way it is. It's better to think of English letters as a kind of decoration, and not as a predictor of pronunciation, I think. Otherwise, think how upsetting 'makudonarudo' would be.

Ghood luck

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Kung Fu Panda is not from Disney. It's from Dreamworks. I actually think Disney movies are highly similar (at least nowadays), and when it's different, it's because it was made either by Pixar or Marvel.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Login to leave a comment

Facebook users

Use your Facebook account to login or register with JapanToday. By doing so, you will also receive an email inviting you to receive our news alerts.

Facebook Connect

Login with your JapanToday account

User registration

Articles, Offers & Useful Resources

A mix of what's trending on our other sites