The works of Studio Ghibli and its renowned creatives, such as Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, are known internationally as some of the best animated features ever to grace the big screen. Films such as My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away are some of the most recognizable animated films of all time, with the latter even winning the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature in 2002. Over the course of its 36-year history, Studio Ghibli has undoubtedly become one of the most revered animation studios in the world.
There is often a lively debate over whether Ghibli’s films are best viewed subtitled with their original Japanese dialogue or dubbed with English voice-overs. Miyazaki himself waded into the waters of this debate in a 2005 interview with The Guardian, where he stated, “When you watch the subtitled version you are probably missing just as many things. There is a layer and a nuance you’re not going to get.” Many of the studio’s films have had expensive re-dubs in English, with the help of none other than Disney, and most of which are available to stream on HBO Max. As a result of Disney’s involvement, the English dubs of Studio Ghibli’s films often feature A-list talent lending their voices to the productions. Here are some of the biggest names whose voices can be heard.
8 Patrick Stewart – Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind
Disney’s 2005 re-dubbing of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind brings the actor behind Captain Picard and Professor Xavier into the world of Ghibli, as Sir Patrick Stewart can be heard voicing the legendary Lord Yupa in the film. In the film, Yupa is a well-known swordsman and warrior, who is respected throughout the post-apocalyptic world where the tale of Nausicaä takes place. As a wise old warrior searching for a prophesied hero, Yupa serves a role in the film similar to that of Obi-Wan Kenobi in the original Star Wars or Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings. It makes sense that Stewart was brought in to voice the character in the English dub, as the actor has the same esteemed aura about him as Alec Guinness and his X-Men co-star Ian McKellen.
The 2005 dub of Nausicaä was not the first time the film had been translated into English for Western audiences. Miyazaki’s original Japanese version was released in 1984, and it was followed by a heavily-edited English version in 1985. That version was retitled Warriors of the Wind and Miyazaki was displeased with the way it had been revised for viewers in the US. The English cast of the film was not credited for their work, and reports from Nausicaa.net say the cast was not told what the film was about until they recorded their dialogue. Disney’s dubbing of the movie restored the story to the way it was originally written, and it is now widely considered the best way to experience the film in English.
7 Mark Hamill – Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind & Castle in the Sky
Star Trek isn’t the only sci-fi franchise to have one of its lead stars featured in a Studio Ghibli film, as none other than Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill, can be heard in not one but two different films from the studio. Hamill can also be heard in the 2005 dub of Nausicaäthough in a much smaller role than Stewart. Hamill plays the Mayor of Pejite, one of the two major warring civilizations at the center of the film’s conflict. However, Hamill made his largest contribution to the English dubbing of Miyazaki’s work several years earlier, as he was featured in Disney’s 2003 re-dubbing of the first official Studio Ghibli film. Castle in the Sky.
Hamill voices Colonel Muska in the film, one of the few straight-forward villains found in the Ghibli filmography. It’s no surprise that Hamill would pop up somewhere in the English dubbing of these films, as he has really made a career for himself in voice work post-Star Wars. Most notably, he’s known for lending his vocal talents to the role of The Joker in Batman: The Animated Series and a number of other animated iterations of that character. Hearing Hamill’s incredibly expressive voice in the realm of Miyazaki’s work is something that just makes sense, and it’s honestly surprising that he’s only been in two of these dubs.
6 Kirsten Dunst – Kiki’s Delivery Service
Kirsten Dunst was featured in the voice-cast of the first Studio Ghibli film to receive a new dubbing from Disney, Kiki’s Delivery Service. Though many may instantly associate Dunst with her role as Mary Jane Watson in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films, her work on this English version of Miyazaki’s delightful children’s story happened years before. Disney’s English dub of Kiki’s Delivery Service was released in 1998, at a point in time when Dunst was most known for her work on the likes of Jumanji, Interview with The Vampireand Little Women.
Dunst voiced the central character of Kiki, a young witch who strikes out on her own as a test of her magical abilities. She ends up settling in a seaside city where she decides to help the local community by starting a delivery service. Kiki’s Delivery Service is one of Miyazaki’s most feel-good and wholesome stories, and Kirsten Dunst was only 15-years-old when she contributed to the English dubbing of the film. It’s a bit surreal watching the film now, knowing that Dunst has since become such an esteemed and Academy-Award-nominated actress.
5 John Krasinski – The Wind Rises
This is an interesting inclusion because John Krasinski‘s work in The Wind Rises is one of the few instances on this list where the English dubbing was not done by Disney years after the film’s original Japanese release. Miyazaki’s most recent film, The Wind Rises, was released in Japan in 2013, with the English dub following in the United States in early 2014. Miyazaki initially intended to retire after the film, but he has since begun work on what will likely be his final film, How Do You Live?. Krasinksi voices Kiro Honjō, a college friend and later co-worker of the 2013 film’s lead character, Jirō Horikoshi (who also happened to be voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Emily Blunt, who had just married Krasinski a few years prior, also voices Nahoko Satomi, Jirō’s main love interest, in the film as well.
Krasinski was hot off the American version of The Office when he recorded his dialogue for The Wind Rises, and he was looking to grow beyond the character of Jim Halpert. While it would be several years before he would find his post-Office foothold with the likes of Amazon’s Jack Ryan series and his directorial efforts with the A Quiet Place series, Krasinski was already an established household name. While his work in The Wind Rises may not be the most dynamic voice-acting around, it was certainly a pleasant surprise to hear his voice in what is one of Miyazaki’s most beautiful films to date.
4 Tom Holland – The Secret World of Arrietty
This is another instance of an actor appearing in an English-dub of a Studio Ghibli film before they became a major name. Back in 2011, Tom Holland was featured in a dub of Arrietty (or The Secret World of Arrietty in the US) where he voices the character of Shō. The dubbing was conducted by StudioCanal for audiences in the United Kingdom in 2011, a year after the film’s initial Japanese release. This makes this one of the few entries on the list that is not from the Disney dubs of Studio Ghibli’s work, as Disney’s dubbing of Arrietty would come a year later and feature Wizards of Waverly Place star David Henrie in the role instead of the future Spider-Man.
With there being two separate English dubs for this film, it’s interesting to compare how the voice casts compare from one to the other. For example, while the StudioCanal version of the film cast Saoirse Ronan in the lead role, the Disney version brought in Lemonade Mouth‘s Bridgit Mendler. The UK version also featured the likes of Olivia Colman and Mark Strong while the US version had Amy Poehler and Will Arnett. Unfortunately, only the US version is available to stream on HBO Max or through services such as Vudu in the States.
3 Cate Blanchett – Ponyo
The legendary actress Cate Blanchett can also be heard in one of Miyazaki’s relatively recent films, Ponyo. The film is widely referred to as the director’s take on the story of The Little Mermaid, and Blanchett contributes to the film as the voice of Ponyo’s mother, the sea goddess Granmamare. Though it’s not a very large role, Ponyo’s mother does play a key part in the film’s conclusion and overall thematic message, which makes Blanchett’s casting nearly perfect. She brings a necessary warmth and regality to the character, making her one of the most memorable aspects of the film.
Similar to The Wind Rises, Disney’s English dub of the film was released not long after the original Japanese version, with only about a year of separation. The English cast of Ponyo is also one of the most star-studded of these dubs, as the film also features the likes of Liam Neeson, Tina Fey, Matt Damon, and Betty White.
2 Michael Keaton – Porco Rosso
Not only does Michael Keaton appear in a Studio Ghibli film, he genuinely stars in one. The Batman actor voices the lead pig-ace pilot of Porco Rosso. Miyazaki’s dog-fighting adventure film was originally released in Japan in 1992, and the English dub from Disney came a dozen years later in 2004. Much of the film is told from the perspective of Porco Rosso, with the character appearing in most scenes. That makes this an instance where Keaton likely had to do extensive voice work for the film, as opposed to the small commitment that was asked of some other actors on this list.
Porco Rosso is by no means the best film to come from Miyazaki or Studio Ghibli, but it is a thoroughly entertaining one nonetheless. As far as the English dub is concerned, much of that fun can be attributed to Keaton’s performance, as the actor’s carefree and the occasionally machismo personality is a great fit for the character.
1 Christian Bale – Howl’s Moving Castle
Michael Keaton is not the only Batman to star in a Studio Ghibli film, as Christian Bale lends his voice to one of the studio’s most beloved films, Howl’s Moving Castle. Bale voices the titular magical character of Howl, whose steampunk-inspired castle travels across the countryside intimidating most people who come across it. Howl is a much more nuanced character than one might initially expect, and Bale conveys much of the character’s conflict excellently in his voice work. What makes Bale’s casting even more entertaining is that the actor recorded his dialogue for this film in roughly the same period of time that he was working on his first Bat-flick, Batman Begins, which is apparent in his work here. The suave persona of Howl in much of the film is very reminiscent of Bale’s Bruce Wayne, and in Howl’s more monstrous moments Bale takes on the same kind of gravelly voice he used for the caped crusader.
Disney’s English dub of Howl’s Moving Castle was released in 2005, and it featured several other big names in its cast. The most instantly recognizable voice in the English dub comes from Billy Crystal, who plays the delightfully sassy fire demon Calcifer. The film also features the voices of several stars from the classic Hollywood era, such as Jean Simmons and Lauren Bacall. Howl’s Moving Castle is one of the most wondrous films of Miyazaki’s long career, and Bale and the rest of the English cast do an outstanding job of capturing that sentiment.