Japan’s legendary Studio Ghibli has been known to toy with viewers' hearts, trafficking without remorse in tears both joyous (My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service) and woeful (Grave of the Fireflies). But today, the house of Miyazaki really went for the tear ducts by planting the seed of a crossover with another tear-farming animation powerhouse: Pixar.
The official Studio Ghibli account slyly tweeted out an image of its official mascot, Totoro, standing in the rain with Pixar favorites James Sullivan and Mike Wazowski of Monsters, Inc. The image, rendered with painterly detail, is a recreation of an iconic shot from My Neighbor Totoro, in which the namesake forest spirit waits in the rain with two little girls for a multi-legged cat bus.
The image was originally tweeted last week, but gained momentum as users caught a glimpse of it amide the screenshots the studio usually posts and various outlets jumped on it.
Naturally, the image has people murmuring about a potential team-up between the world’s most respected animation powerhouses. Could the clownfish heroes of Finding Nemo be en route to meeting the mermaid of Ponyo? Could Carl Fredrickson’s balloon-tethered house be on a crash course with the Castle in the Sky?
It’s unlikely. In fact, the image first appeared in a 2019 Japanese documentary about the name industry, as noted by the eagle-eyed Joyce Li of Hypebeast. In all likelihood, the image is just a cool artist rendering of an iconic scene splicing together the animated films — an elaborate piece of fan fic.
But wait, there’s some precedent
While the image is likely just a cute thing that Ghibli posted as a gift or an elaborate troll job to fans, it’s worth noting that there’s some history between Pixar and Disney. Also noted by Hypebeast, studio godfather Hayao Miyazaki and former Pixar head John Lasseter have a long history of mutual respect dating back to the ‘80s.
Under Lasseter’s watch, Toy Story 3 even included a cameo appearance from Totoro, whose grinning visage was among the Bonnie’s toys, who later adopted the main characters as their own. That means that Totoro canonically lives with Buzz, Slinky and Potato Head. (Woody, meanwhile, is still in the wild haven ridden away on a wave of human tears).
Ghibli is getting into computer animation
Last year, Studio Ghibli released its first computer-animated film, Earwig and the Witch. Directed by Miyazaki’s own son, Goro, the film was received with near universal disappointment, owing largely to its outdated aesthetics. Gone were the vivid visuals and lush hand-drawn landscapes, subbed in with rudimentary animation that landed the film more a curious misfire than the type of instant classic the studio has been cranking out for decades.
With that in mind, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Ghibli would want to work with the powerhouses at Pixar as they step forward into the realm of CGI.
Disney and Ghibli have a rocky history
Alas, regardless of the googly eyes made across the sea between Japan and California, the idea of a Pixar/Ghibli teamup is hindered by the 600lb flying elephant in the room: Disney has a long history of botching Ghibli releases, as detailed in a fascinating piece by Polygon. The Mouse House, in charge of US distribution for films like Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away, botched the rollout, relegating the animated films to the arthouse circuit.
The sour relationship between Ghibli and Pixar’s parent company spells doom for any hope of a collaboration: After all, there’s a reason why Ghibli movies stream on HBO Max instead of Disney+.
Still, if Ghibli movies taught us anything, it’s that the imagination makes anything possible. For now, though, the thought of Mike and Sulley taking the Cat Bus to the scare factory is just a surreal fantasy.