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 38-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 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.
Update January 22, 2024: This article has been updated following the release of The Boy and the Heron with even more great dubs of the Studio Ghibli films.
15 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 picture, 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.
A Much-Needed Restoration
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.
Stream on Max
14 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.
Battle of the English Dubs
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. Stream on Max
13 Claire Danes – Princess Mononoke
The highly-decorated Golden Globe winner Claire Danes has been a constant presence in Hollywood for three decades, having skyrocketed to superstardom when she starred in the groundbreaking teen drama My So-Called Life at just 15-years-old. Since then, she has headlined hit films like Little Women, Romeo + Juliet, and Temple Grandin while also delivering memorable performances in acclaimed television shows including Homeland and Fleishman Is in Trouble. Still riding high from her massive career success and a lucrative decade, Danes lent her voice to the titular character in 1997’s Princess Mononoke.
Danes Dazzles Moviegoers
Danes appeared in the English-dub alongside her then-future husband Billy Crudup as well as Billy Bob Thornton and Minnie Driver, delivering a feisty and spirited performance of the human girl raised by wolves. The stubborn and passionate San (A.K.A. Princess Mononoke) develops a profound bond with Ashitaka (Crudup), as the young Emishi prince struggles with his conflicting loyalties and his desire to help San defend her beloved forest. Princess Mononoke marked Danes’ first and so far only appearance in an animated film, and it remains an impressive vocal performance in Studio Ghibli’s unforgettable catalog. Stream on Max
12 Emily Blunt – The Wind Rises
2013’s The Wind Rises earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature and touted a star-studded ensemble cast, enlisting the talents of famous faces like Joseph Gordon-Levitt, William H. Macy, Stanley Tucci, and of course Emily Blunt to help bring the historical drama to life. The stunning pictures served as a fictionalized account of the wondrous life and legacy of influential Japanese engineer Jiro Horikoshi, the genius behind the World War II-era fighter aircraft the Mitsubishi A5M.
A Moving Historical Drama
Blunt brilliantly voices Nahoko Satomi, the kind and fun-loving romantic interest of Jiro (Levitt) whom he shares an ongoing love affair with throughout the breathtaking film. Their life-altering connection truly shapes the drama and Blunt effortlessly captured the many intriguing facets of her complex character, with Nahoko remaining completely devoted to Jiro even as she faces devastating health setbacks. The Wind Rises became the highest-grossing Japanese film of 2013 and garnered immense praise for its exquisite animation and powerfully moving premise. Stream on Max
11 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 Nausicaä, though 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.
A Wickedly Good Performance
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. Stream on Max
10 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 Vampire, and Little Women.
Dunst’s Vocal Slam Dunk
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. Stream on Max
9 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 wasn’t done by Disney years after the film’s original Japanese release. 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 ultimately returned for one final picture with 2023’s 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).
Krasinski Branches Out
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. Though 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. Stream on Max
8 Debbie Reynolds – Kiki’s Delivery Service
Silver screen legend Debbie Reynolds was one of Tinseltown’s most celebrated stars, and had a phenomenal career spanning nearly seventy years. Whether she was dancing alongside Gene Kelly in Singin’ in the Rain, portraying the spirited eponymous Titanic passenger in The Unsinkable Molly Brown, or enchanting audiences as the zany Aggie Cromwell in the Halloweentown series, Reynolds was an actress who could truly do it all. She added talented voice performer to her ever-growing film repertoire in 1998 when she portrayed the gentle and kind Madame in Kiki’s Delivery Service.
Reynolds Gives It Her All
Though it was a minor supporting role, the character of Madame showed Kiki immense compassion when she needed it most and the pair ended up cooking a herring pie together and bonding in the process. Reynolds had previously voiced the nurturing spider Charlotte in the 1973 adaptation of Charlotte’s Web, and Kiki’s Delivery Service marked the first time in twenty-five years that the illustrious actress took on an animated character. Reynolds’ involvement in the English-dubbed version only added to the charm and overall mass appeal of the fan-favorite hit, and she unsurprisingly made the most out of every scene she was in. Stream on Max
7 Dakota & Elle Fanning – My Neighbor Totoro
Sensational sisters Dakota and Elle Fanning brought their endearing bond to the big screen when they voiced siblings Satsuki and Mei Kusakabe in Studio Ghibli’s trailblazing cinematic feat My Neighbor Totoro. The dynamic Fannings have showcased their acting chops on countless occasions, as they both began their careers as child stars with Dakota famously starring in hits like I Am Sam, Signs, and War of the Worlds and Elle in Phoebe in Wonderland and Somewhere.
Arguably Studio Ghibli’s Most Beloved Hit
The dynamic duo appeared as the Kusakabe sisters as they attempted to adjust to their new life at an old country house, where they befriended the playful and mystical spirits that inhabit the nearby forest, including the large and lovable furry creature. The Fannings brought a childlike innocence and wonder to their respective roles as they marveled at the wood spirits while attempting to cope with their mother’s disheartening sickness. Totoro is widely regarded as one of the most popular characters of all time in Japanese animation and is considered a major career milestone for creator and director Hayao Miyazaki. Stream on Max
6 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.
A Scene-Stealing Portrayal
The sensational Blanchett 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. Stream on Max
5 Willem Dafoe – Tales from Earthsea
Arguably Hollywood’s most revered acting chameloen Willem Dafoe delivers one fantastic performance after another, and there is truly no character or role he hasn’t made his own. From playing an iconic Marvel supervillian to a compassionate Vietnam War Sergeant, and even Jesus Christ himself, Dafoe is a master at his craft and keeps fans on their toes when it comes to his many buzzed about projects. He provided his distinct and engrossing voice for the English-dub of the epic fantasy Tales from Earthsea, an adaptation of the Ursula K. Le Guin novels of the same name.
Dafoe Delights Audiences
Though not Studio Ghibli’s most adored creation, Tales from Earthsea features the additional talents of Timothy Dalton and Mariska Hargitay, with Dafoe naturally knocking it out of the park as the maniacal warlock Cob. The villainous role was the perfect part for Dafoe, who utilized his unmistakable vocals and served up a delightfully demented and ominous portrayal as the cruel and calculating Cob. Tales from Earthsea received praise for its gorgeous visuals and lively cast performances, but many felt underwhelmed by its pacing and lack of faithfulness to the subject source. Stream on Max
4 Jean Simmons – Howl’s Moving Castle
Sophie Hatcher is just a young shop girl when she ends up being cursed by a witch that turns her into a 90-year-old woman. She embarks on a quest to break the curse, hoping the magical wizard Howl can cure her. It is rare for the lead of an animated film to be a senior citizen (one of the only other examples that comes to mind is Up), and the part of Sophie was an important one for the English dub, so legendary actress Jean Simmons was cast in the role. Simmons was known for her Academy Award-nominated roles in films like Hamlet and The Happy Ending, as well as her Golden Globe-winning performance in Guys & Dolls. She also was an Emmy winner for her role in The Thornbirds.
Simmons Gives One of Her Best Performances
With such an incredible filmography, it goes to show that Howl’s Moving Castle is one of the best films Simmons has been a part of. The role of Sophie required a performer who had the heart and spirit of a young woman despite their age and Simmons gives Sophie such a dynamic range of character. She is funny, sad, vulnerable, and confident all in one. Simmons stands out in this incredible film. Stream on Max
3 Robert Pattinson – The Boy and the Heron
Robert Pattinson is most well known for the role of Edward Cullen in Twilight, and because of that he has taken on many roles to try to distance himself from the part. This includes taking on a wide variety of different character roles that push back against the teen heartthrob perception, including roles in Good Time, The Lighthouse, and The Batman. One of the biggest attempts to break away from his perception was landing a role in The Boy and the Heron, voicing the Grey Heron in the English dub. In fact the top three spots are all actors that have played Batman.
Pattinson Goes All Out
The Grey Heron is an older figure, so one might have expected an older actor in the part, but Pattinson truly gives it his all, delivering a high-pitched screechy voice. From the minute fans saw the English dub trailer, nobody could believe it was Pattinson, as he was that good. The Boy and the Heron has become a surprise box office hit in the United States, as it became the first original anime film and Miyazaki’s first film to reach number one at the domestic box office. Part of that could be because fans are going to see it in the original Japanese but also in the English dub just to hear Pattinson’s performance, which is unlike anything he has ever done before. The Boy and Heron is currently playing in theaters.
2 Michael Keaton – Porco Rosso
The second Batman actor on this list. 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 of the dazzling scenes.
Keaton Let’s Loose
Since he portrayed the lead protagonist, 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. Stream on Max
1 Christian Bale – Howl’s Moving Castle
Michael Keaton and Robert Pattinson aren’t 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.
Bale’s Parallel Performances
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. 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. Stream on Max