In 1972 and 1973, a pair of theatrical anime shorts were released called Panda! Go, Panda! Notable was the director and writer of these films, Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki respectively. On the off-chance that you're unfamiliar with these names, these two would go on to co-found Studio Ghibli, one of the most important and remarkable animation studios in the world! Taking this into account, let's take a look at the two shorts and how well they hold up today.
The films follow a girl called Mimiko who is living alone since her grandmother went off to her grandfather's memorial service. The first film sees her return home to notice that some things are off. She eventually finds the culprit, a baby panda, and soon encounters his father, a lovable fellow who explains that he's looking for his child. Mimiko enjoys their antics so much that she invites them to stay at her house, forming a faux family together. As expected, hijinks ensue once the townspeople learn about the pandas living in her home.
My description of the second film will be brief since it contains potential spoilers for the first film but it's called The Rainy-Day Circus and introduces another animal into the mix. Additionally, viewers will note certain story similarities to Hayao Miyazaki's later film Ponyo.
Something that's important to keep in mind when watching these films are that they are simple and charming comedies, lacking the depth of many later productions from Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki but making up for it with so much warmth that I couldn't help myself but be drawn in. It also helps that much of its humour - which is a mixture of slapstick, absurd humour and misunderstandings - is genuinely funny and I find myself always chuckling at what the characters get up to.
Speaking of the characters, let's talk about them for a moment. Mimiko herself is delightful, always finding joy in everything. A scene that really establishes her character occurs early in the film where a policeman asks her whether she'd be scared of being home alone and what she would do if burglars showed up. Her response is to note that she's never met burglars before and that it'd be exciting if they were to show up. The baby panda is always full of energy and develops a strong relationship with Mimiko, overjoyed when she says that she'll be his mother and hugging her while shouting "Mama! Mama!" However, his inquisitiveness often leads to issues such as when he comes along with Mimiko to her school. The father panda is another wonderful addition to the cast who shares his son's enthusiasm, but finds that his large size often leads to clumsiness as he attempts to become like a human father. There are many other lovely characters but these three form the foundation of the films and play well off of each other.
The films were animated by TMS Entertainment and the animation proves to be quite simple with a restrained level of detail which is more than made up for by the vibrant colours and character designs, as well as some really lovely shots such as when the three go over some stepping stones in a river with a great use of reflections and the way they cross highlighting their personalities. It's certainly a far cry from the fluidity and detail of the Studio Ghibli features, but they remain pleasant looking films nonetheless.
The soundtrack is also wonderfully cheerful and catchy, somewhat surprising given that the composer for these films also did the soundtrack for Belladonna of Sadness. I could see an argument to be made that the score is too cheerful and bubbly but I think it works wonderfully well with the tone of these films.
Both releases are available in both Japanese and English and I have to say that I really love the English dub. The voice cast do a great job and even the unusual accent, sort of a Rastafarian/Jamaican accent, given to the father panda proves to be surprisingly hilarious!
The box set that I haves was released by Manga Entertainment and it's quite basic in its presentation. Both shorts are on a single disc and the extras consist of the original Japanese openings and a short biography of both Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki. It's certainly not a substantial release but I'm satisfied to have these films in my collection, even if the package overall is a little barebones.
These films are so heartwarming and joyful that I can't help but smile every time I watch them. They're simple compared to what would come after but I believe them to be well worth watching over 50 years later.