In Amazon’s animated family series “Ronja, the Robber’s Daughter,” young Ronja grows up to question whether or not she wants to go into her father’s line of work. It’s a feeling that hits close to home for the series’ director Goro Miyazaki, son of animator and Studio Ghibli co-founder Hayao Miyazaki.
“I’ve felt remorse for my choice of following in my father’s footsteps,” Goro Miyazaki told IndieWire in an email interview, but indicated that he also laughed in his response to this question.
The younger Miyazaki had initially decided not to go into animation or work for his father’s company. Instead, he pursued landscape architecture and created beauty in the real world by designing parks and gardens.
The pull of Studio Ghibli was too strong, however. Miyazaki first joined ranks when he helped design the Ghibli museum in 1998, then acted as its director for a few years. When he began consulting on the film “Tales From Earthsea” and was asked to create some storyboards, on the strength of that vision Miyazaki became a first-time director for the project. He followed that with the film “From Up on Poppy Hill” and then the studio’s first television series, “Ronja, the Robber’s Daughter”
Based on the novel of the same name by “Pippi Longstocking” author Astrid Lindgren, “Ronja” tells the story of a girl born in medieval Scandinavia on the night of a fierce storm that split her family’s fort in two. She became a favorite of her father Mattis and his close band of robbers who lived in the fort.
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Allowed to wander out to the nearby forest alone at age 10, Ronja’s unfettered joy and awe at the world around her is understandable. Lush greenery, snow-covered peaks, sparkling rivers, moss-covered boulders, and giant trees are a playground that nourishes her soul while it invites her to play and explore.
“Many scenes in ‘Ronja’ were based on my experience as a landscape architect, including the forest scenes,” Miyazaki explained. “I hope that children will have many chances to encounter nature and be touched by it.”
As seen in the trailer, Ronja cannot contain her glee in the forest, which prompts her to run and leap through the grass, hop across stones and heave herself nimbly into the trees like an acrobat.
“There is a difference between being true and looking true,” Miyazaki said about creating Ronja’s movements. “Of course, I studied people in the real world. Also, when creating the characters’ motions, I used some techniques developed by Hayao Miyazaki and other animators.”
These outdoor scenes epitomize the harmony between two styles of animation used on “Ronja,” which combine Studio Ghibli’s strengths in traditional cel animation with Polygon Pictures’ 3-D computer graphics.
“The animation style of ‘Ronja, the Robber’s Daughter’ is a hybrid of computer-generated 3-D characters and 2-D hand-drawn and hand-painted background art,” Miyazaki said. “I used what is called the ‘Toon Look’ to match the characters appropriately to the style of the background art. We adopted this style because it is ideal for expressing the rich seasonal beauty of nature. Also, Japanese audiences like and are familiar with 2-D animation.
”I chose Polygon Pictures because there are few studios in Japan which can create computer-generated 3-D animation for a TV series of the quality and scale I required,” he continued. “Polygon Pictures could certainly meet and exceed my demands, and was eager for our new challenge.”
Beyond just the landscape, the wild creatures that Ronja encounters in the forest add another element to her education. She learns by attempting to tame wild horses and observing fox kits being born. But it’s the fantastical beings that are more unpredictable and create the real peril in her life. The red-eyed gray dwarves and terrifying harpies are not her friends, and Ronja learns to expect malicious intent from them. “The creatures live and behave on different principles from human beings,” said Miyazaki, explaining why they create danger in the series.
While the beautiful scenes in the forest appear tailor-made for Miyazaki’s landscaping background, he acknowledged that he related to Ronja’s more complex feelings about her father once she matured. It’s a theme that he feels many families would understand. “I was drawn to the original novel ‘Ronja, the Robber’s Daughter’ because it is not only a very interesting book even for adults, but also because it describes what happens between parents and children as the children grow,” he said.
Ronja’s father Mattis may excel at robbery, but he can’t seem to control his temper when it comes to his nemesis Borka. The enmity between the two robber chiefs is deeply personal and often devolves into name-calling and other immature behavior. Having the adults act like squabbling children is deliberate. “I think that adults are often more ridiculous than children,” said Miyazaki.
Ronja will learn more lessons from this rivalry when she befriends Birk, who happens to be Borka’s son. The two begin sharing adventures in the forest, often relying on each other in perilous situations, and later begin to truly understand the nature of how their fathers make a living. Naturally, their friendship does not sit well with either Mattis or Borka.
As with the theme of growing up, Miyazaki sees the bad blood between the two chiefs as representative of many disagreements in the world today. “Rivalries between adults create sorrow in children,” he observed.
While some of these themes may seem somewhat heavy for young minds, this is in keeping with Studio Ghibli’s practice of never talking down to children.
“I’ve learned that you should never compromise on what you think is important, while you should also listen to the opinions of others,” Miyazaki said.
All 26 episodes of “Ronja, the Robber’s Daughter” are available to stream on Amazon now.