I was just looking in the mirror at my Totoro t-shirt and thinking about how much I love Miyazaki movies. Part of it is the sheer creativity of the worlds -- the nature spirit in Mononoke the Yubaba's minions and the visitors to her bathhouse in Spirited Away, or the giant ohmu crawling rapidly across spore deserts in Nausicaa. Part of it is the rules of the worlds -- kodama marking the health of a forest, the of stealing Jihiro's name, or the world absorbing and purifying toxins deep within its surface. Part of it is the characters -- that the symbol of civilization was as sympathetic in the war (building a home for the lepers) as Mononoke and the wolves were in protecting their natural home, or seeing a warm side to Yubaba through her sister (even as Yubaba threatens to eat Jihiro's parents), or the deadly ohmu being helpless victims of rage. But perhaps my favorite thing is that most of his movies are family films without being condescending to anyone.
By and large, I feel like modern family films consist of childish humor for kids and adult innuendo for mom and dad. The formula entertains often enough, but it never feels authentic when an audience is targets two separate audiences, throwing them bits of meat every other line.
Perhaps it's just easier that way, but I wish more family films took their cues from Miyazaki because the world is a place with real consequences. Kids see families separate, friends leave, and parents die. They get hurt and bleed and meet untrustworthy people. It's Jihiro trying to grip a dragon and feed it medicine as it thrashes injured body on the floor and stains the walls with its blood, or Nausicaa unpinning a skewered ohmu hoping to calm the incoming swarm, or losing May in the night when she gets lost trying to help her mother. What makes difficult experiences accessible to everyone is seeing them through the eyes of a child. Children are glued to the screen because the emotions of someone like them are genuine and the world seems as dangerous and intriguing as their own, and adults are glued to the screen because they remember what it was like to view the world that way.