Reviewby Maral Agnerian, Feb 4th 2002
Panda! Go Panda! (movie)
Panda! Go Panda! is about a little girl, Mimiko, who is left alone while her Grandma is away. While she is away, Mimiko ably fends for herself but wishes she could have a mother and father. On her way home from shopping one day, Mimiko happens upon a baby panda bear named Panny and his large father, who has a great love of the bamboo patch near Mimiko's house. Mimiko loves her new friends so much that she asks if they all want to become a family. They all agree... and so begin their wacky adventures.
The literal translation of the title Panda Kopanda is "Panda, Baby Panda", but it's been released in North America as Panda! Go Panda!. The movies were made at a time when "panda fever" was sweeping Japan: a pair of pandas had just been given to Japan by China and everyone was very excited about them.
Panda! Go Panda! is a 30 minute movie made in 1972, with the second part, 'Rainy Day Circus', made in 1973. Both are included on one tape. Miyazaki created the original idea, the script, the layouts, and did key animation, and Takahata directed the film.
In this show you can clearly see where Totoro originated -- Papa Panda is like a smaller, talking Totoro with a vaguely Rastafarian accent (I have no idea why he has that accent, but it's hilarious) and an obsession for bamboo. Indeed, the whole film feels like a prototype for My Neighbor Totoro; it's obvious that Miyazaki was playing with ideas here that would later develop into a full-length film. As a prototype, of course, and as one of Miyazaki's first works, it's understandably less complex and well-developed as later films. The plot is much more simplified and the whole thing feels much more like a 'kid's show' than Totoro did. Kids will probably love Panda! Go Panda! to bits, but adults might get turned off by its more simple approach and look.
I said it was simple, right? Well, it is, but it's also got that Miyazaki brand of wonkiness that's so apparent (and endearing) in Totoro. Weird things happen, things that tend to throw adults for a loop, but kids just lap it right up. Papa Panda is Mimiko's 'dad', and Mimiko is Panny's 'mom'? No problem. A little girl like Mimiko can be a responsible mom and fend for herself? No problem. Mimiko spontaneously does handstands out of sheer happiness whenever pretty much anything interesting happens, from getting a new family to having burglars break into her home? No problem either. It's all totally unbelievable, but in Miyazaki's world it just WORKS somehow. Pandas and people can live together and eat breakfast, Papa Panda can go to 'work' at the zoo, and every seeming disaster is an opportunity for finding new ways to have fun. It's a magical, make-believe fantasyland that's infectiously fun and irresistably cute.
The animation is TV level and thus isn't spectacular, but this is only understandable for a movie 30 years old. And despite its age, it's drawn in a simple and fresh style that's classic Miyazaki (minus the elaborate backgrounds he developed later) and hardly seems dated at all. Colours are bright and cheery, and the music, while fairly simple, fits the scenes well. Be warned, however, that the theme song is even more addictive than the one from Totoro and will stick in your brain for days.
And wonder of wonders, the dub isn't awful! It seems to be the only way to see this adorable show, so it's a nice surprise that they did a decent job on the dubbing. It's somewhat simplistic and obviously aimed at children, but the voices are all in all pretty good, and the aforementioned Rasta accent on Papa Panda has to be heard to be believed.
While Panda! Go Panda! isn't quite up to the level of its brilliant descendant Totoro, it's still tons of genki fun and a great family film. Recommended.
Overall (dub) : A
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ Cheerful, colorful and fun
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