We just went to see Ponyo today and it was soo sweet. It's Miyazaki's newest film, which is based on Hans Christian Anderson's, The Little Mermaid. It couldn't have been farther from Disney's version, which pretty much sums up why I liked it. It is really the reason I love to read Eastern fairy and folk tales to the girls and not just Western ones like Grimm's. I think in most cases it comes down to a difference in world view, which basically boils down to religious differences. In this case we're looking at the difference between a Christian version vs. a Buddhist version of this story, The Little Mermaid.
First, let's just compare the trailers: You'll notice Disney bought this and put the voices on it as well as enhanced the colors to look more "American." The Japanese version looks more like a watercolor painting. However, Disney did not make the film. Their choice of voice over and music differs considerably though from the original. A real child sings the main song in a very authentic way and the voices are softer and simpler.
And The Little Mermaid: This is a Disney production from start to finish. Although this is when Disney began using mostly Japanese animators and took on more of a manga look to it that has lasted, the story and production are American Disney.
Without giving too much away if you haven't seen Ponyo yet, here's the part I enjoy about Eastern tales. In both stories the spell needed to be broken by the kiss of true love. Yet in the Ponyo version it was a non-sexual love- an unconditional love in the friendship sense. The characters were both 5 years old. In the Disney version Ariel is highly sexualized and the love is turned into a romantic love. So, what does this have to do with Buddhism and Christianity??? Well, not much. I mean that part of the story, anyway. But I find it irritating and inappropriate for young children.
But here's the part where I really appreciate the Eastern versions. In Ponyo, both the mother (feminine) and her father (masculine) work together in supporting the boy to love Ponyo unconditionally. It comes down to one simple decision. That's it. There is no drama, fight, killing another to overcome 'evil' and set things straight. He just has to love unconditionally.
In stark contrast to Disney's version (really all Disney films and most Grimm's tales have this same theme), where 'good' conquers 'evil.' Let's think about this. Good must conquer evil for good to win. Ariel's father had to kill the sea witch. How many times have we seen this one go down in history in the name of Christianity. Um, there were the witch trials, taking all power within the church away from women, turning the holy trinity, that many historians say were 3 Goddesses originally, into The Father, The Son and the Holy Spirit. Ok, a man, a man and an androgynous being. The killing of the feminine of course represents killing off of intuition and connection with others and turning it into a roll of 'obeying the Father.' Ariel disobeyed her father, then payed a price, repented and the Father conquered evil for her in the end sending the sea witch into eternal hell and damnation. Fine, if that suits your world view.
Ponyo's version goes something like this: Ponyo disobeys her father and sneaks up to the earth, he finds her and she tells him she wants to be human. He goes to the Sea Queen and together the two confront the little boy and ask him if he can truly love her unconditionally for who she is- half human/ half fish and he says yes. All who witness it are born a new and are healed of their ailments (old ladies no longer need wheel chairs, etc.)
So, it really comes down to what your own world view is and then what you choose to expose your children to. Now, I'm not saying that the true origins of Christianity are based in violence. I don't think they were. Nor do I think what most people consider to be Christianity today has much to do with the teachings of Christ. But the Christianity that many currently subscribe to is filled with quite a bit of violent ideas and images that play out in many children's stories and I don't think many people give much thought to it at all.
Another very good example is the difference between Grimm's, Mother Holle and the Indonesian folk tale called The Two Sisters, found in Balinese Children's Stories. The stories are nearly identical except the 'old woman' in the Grimm's is a witch and in the Eastern version she's a 'wise old woman.' In Grimm's it ends with one sister covered in black ash for the rest of her days (eternal damnation in hell). In The Two Sisters, the one sister is loved back to wholeness and returns to the family (reincarnation, forgiveness and redemption).
The thing I appreciate most about the Eastern tales is that it gives children guidance into the power of love and forgiveness- that love itself can heal all things. It doesn't leave you at the mercy of some big all- powerful, judgmental MAN in the sky wondering if he's going to grant you forgiveness or not. The responsibility lies in each individual and comes down to a simple choice: Will I choose to love and heal the situation, or not? As the father in Ponyo said, "All of humanity depends upon it." I couldn't agree with him more.