The Key Difference Between Disney and Studio Ghibli

Disney and Studio Ghibli are often compared when it comes to making really great animation. Both continue to push the envelope of what animation is and what it means to tell an animated story. However, both see progress in a different light and go about achieving it in contrasting ways.

The Disney Approach


While Walt did, at least during production, make a point of creating great stories, they rarely challenged the status quo. Indeed they fell back on, and relied upon, long established tales, fables and stories that Walt knew would resonate with audiences.

In addition to punching up the characters, Disney was also alert to technological advances that, while mostly being oblivious to the public, almost certainly gave him the edge over his competitors. Combined with the right talent, Disney hit on a winning formula and hasn’t really looked back since.

That, in a sense, sums up their approach to animated progress. Solid storytelling applied with a good dose of technological flair. Sure there was a bit of a malaise in the 70s and 80s, but the Little Mermaid helped pioneer the CAPS system and almost simultaneously, CGI began to be incorporated into Disney features in at least some capacity.

By extension, Pixar have the same mindset Their films, while exceptional have had a consistent and relentless technological drive behind them that shows no sign of slowing down. Think the point that was hammered home for Monsters Inc. about the rendering in Sully’s hair and you get the idea.

Coming right up to today, Frozen represents the latest step with a story that is as old as the hills, but created with technology that supposedly had the ability to make every snowflake unique.

The Studio Ghibli Approach

From Up On Poppy Hill
From Up On Poppy Hill

Often referred to the Walt Disney of Japan, Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli have taken a different track when it comes to animation progress. To some, it may seem bizarre; they do, after all, still use traditional paper. Disney abandoned that a decade a ago, how could that be considered progress?

Disney took the all-or-nothing approach to technology and animation. Ghibli on the other hand has instead decided to use technology to enhance traditional animation and to take advantage of the benefits computers offer without having them dictate the look of the film.

A Pixar film will immediately appear to have been made on a computer. But what about Spirited Away? You wouldn’t think that was a CGI film would you? Yet it was with approximately 99% of the film having a CGI component in it in one form or another.

What it boils down to is that Studio Ghibli focus on making exquisite films first and foremost and using stories to drive what they believe to be progress in animation. Technology is merely a background tool that assists them in the process in contrast to Disney who proudly proclaim how advanced their films are.

To that end, which approach is best? Or rather, would you rather see a film that is touted as being highly technical or one that has a great story and characters? I know which one I would plump for, what about you?

11 thoughts on “The Key Difference Between Disney and Studio Ghibli”

  1. Well obviously story and characters. Does the average audiences really care how well Sulley’s fur flows? They could’ve just made his fur fuzzy, instead of programming his fur to look more shaggy, and the audiences wouldn’t mind at all.

    1. artinspirestechnologyinspiresa

      I’m really glad that Disney and Pixar pushed technology like they do. It has been good for the entire industry. However, I find myself caring less and less about their films. I think the last Disney or Pixar movie I was excited to see was Toy Story 3.

    2. Sadly the general public does INDEED care more for “Sully fur” than the alternative: as can be proven by America’s obsession with stunning CGI over great storytelling. Look no further than Avatar and its fanciful world in 3D while telling a garbage version of the Pocahontas story. Yet truly amazing stories are regulated to either winning an Oscar so people know about them or a fate of commercial failure.

      As a fan of 2D, I almost would rather see LACK of technology over story, but I admit story and character (character over all else, really) still tops my list.

      1. There’s a cutoff point to how FX can shape appeal though. Avatar is a tip-top example of fx so naturally that will weigh heavily into consideration It’s hard to say that the general public cares more for “Sully fur” than story because that distraction will only take you so far… if the movie is based on visuals with little story to hold it up, you have to shake a new pair of keys at them every few minutes to hold that kind of interest.

      2. I’m part of the so-called “general public”. For me, I would sooner be invested in well-rounded, fleshed-out, and well-developed characters and the same can be said for the story/plot involved rather than be impressed by something that looks pretty.

        Not everyone within the audience are the kind that can be easily entertained just by going “Oh look, shiny stuff” .

        Your movie and/or TV show can look like something which would make Pixar, Dreamworks and Sony Pictures Animation feel jealous.

        But, if your writing, direction, story and yes, even characters are bland, boring and dull, the audience will be disinterested and watch something else.

        Case in point, Stan Lee’s Stripperella.

    3. It isn’t really so much that the audience will care about Sully’s fur or not, but the fact that Disney/Pixar chose to trumpet the fact as a measure of the film’s quality in their marketing. It’s a gimmick designed to lure the public into the cinema in the belief that technology can produce a better film than real people.

  2. Reading everyone’s comments gave me time to rethink my statement, and realize that the general audience do care about the technical side of film, so long as they make the film’s a visually enticing spectacle.
    And if that’s really the case, that makes the comeback of 2D animation in America seem even more futile, since audiences might view it as too old compared to CG.

    1. I’m not that worried. There’s plenty of 2D animation on TV. It’s not that the format of 2D hand drawn animation is outdated, it’s that the movies haven’t been good enough.

  3. My only problem with disney today is that even the theatrical movies seem to be made mainly as a bridge from the merchandising to the consumer. The goal to sell products attached to the movie looks clear throughout the entire thing, it’s like the barbie or tinkerbell franchises, though these have the excuse they’re made for tv and don’t have much for a budget. Even not mentioning ghibli, we have others making masterpierces today, like mamoru hosoda, makoto shinkai, and laika. If disney doesn’t stop making hour long commercials, it’s gonna start attracting less and less talent until that’s all they’re able to do.

  4. Disney/Pixar films have completely lost their substance. Some say that Frozen is one of their best films. I would disagree. I do enjoy most of the old Disney animated films (from Snow White up until Lion King; Fantasia’s my favorite), but I’ve never really been fond of the Pixar films. Even as a child, I had nothing but disdain for the Pixar films. On the other hand, I love all of Studio Ghibli’s films. Even the so called “bad” Ghibli films are cuts above Pixar films. There’s just something about Ghibli’s, especially Miyazaki’s, films that just grab you by the soul, and holds on to you forever. They may not make sense intellectually, but there’s no denying Ghibli films have loads of soul. I remember Spirited Away, my first Ghibli film, much more vividly than any of Pixar’s films.

    But that’s just my take on it. I am definitely pro-Ghibli when it comes to Ghibli vs. Pixar.

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