Panda! Go Panda!

(Panda Kopanda)
Cover for the video

Rating: 4 Rampages

Panda Kopanda (Panda! Go Panda!) is a 30 minute movie made in 1972. Miyazaki created the original idea, the script, the layouts, and did key animation, and Takahata directed the film. The story is about a little girl, Mimiko, who was left alone while her Grandma was 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 Mimiko's bamboo patches. Mimiko loves her new friends so much that she asks if they all want to become a family. They all agree... and so begins 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.

Mimiko and Panny demonstrate upside-down-fu Review:
Herself the Elf sez: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 Tonari no Totoro; it's obvious that Miyazaki was playing with ideas that would later develop into a full-length film. As a prototype, of course, and as Miyazaki's first work, it's understandably less complex and well-developed as later works. 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 Kopanda 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 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. 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.

While Panda! Go Panda! isn't up to the level of its descendant Totoro, it's still tons of genki fun and a great family film. Recommended.

Available from Pioneer Family Entertainment.