a.k.a. Alps no Shoujo Heidi
When Heidi, a young girl from Germany, is orphaned at the age of seven, her aunt brings her to her grandfather’s home in the Swiss Alps. While at first a little scared about the gruff old man and her new home, she quickly learns to love both him and the beautiful mountains around her. She makes new friends quickly, but her happiness is about to end suddenly when her aunt returns to take her back to Germany to live with a foster family…
summary by Taleweaver
Highs: True to the literary source; charmingly innocent; positive message
Lows: Overidealizes the “simple life”; Heidi never really develops
When Nippon Animation (still named Zuiyo Enterprises at the time) started a line of anime based on children’s literature in 1974, it probably had no idea that this project would continue until 1997 under the now-famous name of World Masterpiece Theatre. Of course, it couldn’t have known that the man chosen to direct its first series would become one of the two most groundbreaking figures of anime and a co-founder of Studio Ghibli: Takahata Isao.
Heidi, Girl of the Alps shows the incredible talent of the man behind Grave of the Fireflies, even through the now outdated art and animation. While entertaining and gripping in its use of scenery and pacing, this series remains true to the literary source, the 19th century Heidi novels by Johanna Spyri. There’s hardly a boring moment as the little, old-fashioned narrative style of the novels is translated into beautiful and soothing scenes. Heidi herself is of a charming innocence that easily captures both the audience and the other characters. The slow transition of her grandfather from gruff hermit to warm-hearted teacher under her influence is a sight not to be missed. Put simply, Heidi has the ability to bring out the best in everybody with her sincere joy and happiness. The entire series conveys the very positive message that everybody can overcome his or her weaknesses, mental or physical alike.
While Heidi, Girl of the Alps could be interpreted as a fairy tale, the story becomes a little over-the-top if taken at face value. Heidi’s life in the mountains is shown as the ideal way for a young girl to grow up, and possible problems (like not being able to learn to read and write properly) are only addressed to be dismissed quickly. In contrast, life outside the mountains is shown as full of restrictions and rules, hardly a good environment for a child. The series is right in its criticism of 19th century education but overidealizes “the simple life” in contrast. Also, there is hardly any character development from Heidi. While her grandfather and essentially everybody around her become affected by her cheerfulness, she remains the same during the entire series. No matter what fate has in store for her, she accepts it with wide eyes and a smile, and that’s about it. Yes, she does cry in a few scenes, but all her troubles are gone the next day. That’s hardly what you’d expect from a girl aged between seven and eight.
Strongly appealing to children all over the world, Heidi, Girl of the Alps is one of the best series of the World Masterpiece Theater and an early testament to the skills of Takahata Isao. While a little too romantic in its depiction of life in the Swiss Alps, this production never becomes overly sappy and manages to entertain all ages, even after 30 years. Take a trip back in time and watch this series; it’ll be a journey into your own childhood.
Heidi, Girl of the Alps can be downloaded legally in the United States HERE.