Panda! Go Panda! consists of two 30 minute films, Panda! Go Panda! And Panda! Go Panda! And the Rainy Day Circus, which were first produced in 1972 and 1973. Hayao Miyazaki was the man behind the original idea, scripts, layouts and was also a key animator. The two short films tell the story of a little girl called Mimiko, who is left alone in her house while her Grandmother is away, and a pair of pandas come to live with her.
Panda! Go Panda! was created in a time when Japan was gripped by “panda fever” because China had given Japan two pandas, and is viewed by many as a precursor for Miyazaki’s later work My Neighbor Totoro. It is clear why. Papa Panda is just like a smaller, more talkative version of the beloved Totoro, and even Mimiko seems to be a prototype for Mei in many respects. In fact the whole movie seems to be Miyazaki playing around with ideas and concepts that would filter down to his later works. Panda! Go Panda! is, understandably, less complicated than Miyazaki’s other works, and it is also clearly a TV movie aimed at kids (and they will love it!). However don’t let that put you off if you’re an adult because if you’re a Miyazaki fan then you’ll most likely still enjoy it even if you don’t find the storyline particularly thrilling.
The story follows Mimiko who is left home alone when her Grandmother has to go away. But don’t worry, this is Miyazaki’s world after all, where a child being left unsupervised and inviting two, talking, pandas to live with her as her father and son isn’t unusual at all. Also Mimiko is more than capable of taking care of herself. She is a small, red haired girl who never lets anything get her down. She might not have any parents, but that’s ok; she’s got a panda for a papa now and another panda for a son! What’s that? Burglars broke into the house? Mimiko isn’t afraid! In fact she’ll do a handstand for them and try to invite them to stay for dinner. There’s a flood? No problem, she’ll just move onto the roof. Nothing is a problem for this little girl; nothing can wipe the grin from her face and stop her from doing handstands every time something remotely good or exciting happens.
The art style is simple and clean, and though it feels a little dated, many people might not guess that the films are 30 years old, because it still feels fresh. The colours are bright and cheerful which fits the tone of the films perfectly. The music, though it isn’t spectacular, is also light-hearted, and the theme song is so addictive that you’ll have it stuck in your head for days after watching Panda! Go Panda!
Another huge plus for Panda! Go Panda! is that the dub is actually very good! The English voices sound nearly the same as the Japanese and not an ounce of character personality is lost in translation. Papa panda’s voice might seem a little odd at first, but you soon get used to it and after a while you can’t imagine him sounding any other way, and Panny, the baby panda’s voice is very sweet and childish. Mimiko also manages to sound like a little girl, but without the annoying whiny edge that sometimes occurs in dubbed versions of children’s voices.
Overall, while Panda! Go Panda! isn’t as good as Miyazaki’s later works, it certainly is a charming film that all the family can enjoy, though some adults may find that it’s simply not their cup of tea, and is a must have film for any Miyazaki fans to own.