Heidi, Girl of the Alps (アルプスの少女ハイジ Arupusu no Shōjo Haiji?) is a 1974 Japanese anime series byZuiyo Enterprises based on the Swiss novel Heidi's Years of Wandering and Learning by Johanna Spyri (1880). It was directed by Isao Takahata and features contributions by numerous other anime luminaries, includingYoichi Kotabe (character design, animation director), Toyoo Ashida (co-character design, animation director),Yoshiyuki Tomino (storyboard, screenplay), and Hayao Miyazaki (scene design, layout, screenplay).
Heidi is one of several World Masterpiece Theater titles produced around the "classical children's literatureperiod" (1974–1997), based on classic tales from the Western world. The animation studio responsible for Heidi, Zuiyo Enterprises, would split in 1975 into Nippon Animation Company, Ltd. (which employed the anime's production staff and continued with the World Masterpiece Theater franchise) and Zuiyo Company, Ltd., which retained the rights (and debt) to the Heidi TV series. The feature-length movie edit of the TV series, released in March 1979, was engineered completely by Zuiyo, with no additional involvement from Nippon Animation, Takahata or Miyazaki.
Adelheid (called Heidi) is five years old when her aunt Dette, who has raised Heidi since her parents' death four years earlier, takes Heidi to live with her formidable grandfather on the Swiss Alps. Dette has found a promising job in Frankfurt, but cannot leave while still Heidi's guardian. The only relative left is Heidi's grandfather, and in Dette's opinion, he should take some responsibility. Alm-Onji (Alps-Uncle), as Heidi's grandfather is commonly known, has a fearsome reputation with the villagers of Dörfli, as rumors claim that in his youth he killed a man. Now he lives a solitary life with his dog Josef in a cabin halfway up the mountain. However, Heidi quickly wins her way into his heart with her enthusiasm and intelligence, firmly establishing herself in his life. She spends her summer days on the mountain top with the goatherd Peter, whose responsibility it is to take the villagers' goats to the high mountains for pasture, and her winters occasionally visiting Peter's grandmother, a blind old woman whose dream is to one day hear her cherished book of psalms read to her. Alm-Onji's misanthropy prevents Heidi from going to school, of which she has no experience anyway.
Heidi continues to live happily in the mountains until Aunt Dette returns from the city, excited about a good opportunity for Heidi. A wealthy Germanbusinessman, Mr. Sesemann, is searching for a companion for his crippled daughter. Thwarted by Alm-Onji, Dette tricks Heidi into accompanying her, ostensibly to get a present for Peter and her grandfather. Promised that she can return at any time, Heidi is taken to Frankfurt. There, Dette abandons her to the care of Miss Rottenmeier, the strict, no-nonsense governess in charge of Clara's welfare. Heidi and Clara quickly become friends, and Heidi quickly turns the household topsy-turvy with her escapades and well-meaning faux pas. Clara is enchanted by Heidi's stories of the Alps, which paint a picture of a life completely different from the sheltered and lonely one she is accustomed to. Her father is mostly away on business, and Clara's only constant companions until now are the servants and her canary.
Heidi's longing to return home and occasional attempts to escape are punctuated by the occasional distractions of new friends. She smuggles a small kitten into the house, and Clara and she care for it until Mrs. Rottenmeier discovers it and has it thrown out. Clara's doctor befriends her, and occasionally keeps a benevolent eye on her, but it is Clara's grandmother that has the most impact. On one of her rare visits to Frankfurt, she and Heidi become fast friends. Under her kindly tutelage, Heidi finally learns how to read, to the astonishment of the tutor who has struggled for months to do the same. However, the old woman's departure home again proves a turning point for Heidi. Forbidden by Mrs. Rottenmeier to ever mention or even think of the Alps again, Heidi rapidly goes into a decline, eventually becoming a sleep-walker whose ghostly passage through the hallways terrorizes the household.
Summoned home to deal with the haunting, Mr. Sesemann, with the aid of the doctor, catch Heidi in the middle of the night. The doctor diagnoses Heidi's condition and persuades Mr. Sesemann to send the girl back to her Alps before she dies of homesickness. Clara is only reconciled by the promise that she will be allowed to visit Heidi in her mountains. Under the care of Sebastian, the kindly butler, Heidi embarks on the long trip home, finally returning to the arms of her overjoyed grandfather, Peter and his family.
Heidi's return and her enjoyment of reading prompt Alm-Onji to partially restore a ruined house down in the village, where they retire the following winter so that Heidi can start going to school. Over the course of the season, Heidi and Alm-Onji become friendly with the villagers, and Peter builds his own sled and wins a local race. The subsequent spring, they return to the mountain in the Alps, bidding farewell to their new friends. In Frankfurt, Clara, who has been longing to see her friend again, reminds her father of his promise to her, but he reminds her that the conditions in the Swiss Alps may be too harsh for her to handle. The doctor is sent to the Alps in her place, to determine whether it is an appropriate environment for a crippled, sick young girl. Heidi, Peter, Alm-Onji, and the limitations of the terrain convince the doctor that this may be just the place for Clara to try her legs again.
In due course, Clara comes to the Alps with Mrs. Rottenmeier, whose disapproval of the rustic conditions and fear of animals is patent. However, Clara's grandmother soon arrives, and after seeing first-hand the vast improvement in Clara's condition, sends Mrs. Rottenmeier home, commending Clara to the Alm-Onji's care before departing herself. After having established that Clara's legs are capable of functioning, the children and Alm-Onji begin to work on Clara's physical therapy. Eventually, Clara is able to walk without assistance and returns home with her father and grandmother, promising that she will return the following spring to be with her friends again.
Heidi, christened Adelheid, is 5 years old and an orphan at the time the story begins. The story eventually ends some three years later. Heidi's curiosity, enthusiasm, and intelligence charm most people and animals into friendship, with one notable exception being Ms. Rottenmeier, the housekeeper for the Sesemann family. Her only relatives are her Aunt Dette, from her mother's side, and her paternal grandfather, the Alm-Onji.
The Alm-Onji, or Onji (Alm-Öhi in Swiss German), is never identified by any proper name. He is an old man, but still physically formidable, with a deep well of wisdom and mountain knowledge that he uses to survive the harsh conditions of the Swiss Alps. He is rumored to have killed a man in his youth, and has a popular reputation as being godless, bad-tempered and hard. He is a skilled woodworker, and creates bowls and assorted utensils out of wood, and keeps two goats which provide milk he turns into cheese for trade with the villagers.
Peter is an 11-year-old goatherd, who is responsible for caring for the village goats during the summer. He lives with his mother and his blind grandmother in a shack some distance from the village. His father was a goatherd as well, until he died. Peter's family is not wealthy, and he was used to going hungry until he befriended Heidi. He is an indifferent student, and is somewhat notorious for his greed and academic incompetence; however, towards the end of the animated series he became a natural carpenter.
The Heidi, Girl of the Alps anime has been dubbed in many languages. The TV series was able to reach major stardom in Asia, Europe and Latin America where the anime was dubbed in multiple languages.
Dubbed for the SABC by Leephy Studios, the show was incredibly popular in South Africa during the 1980s, and had a number of re-runs. The opening and closing title music is unique to the Afrikaans version, in the form of the traditional song 'Heidi' sung in Afrikaans with an orchestral accompaniment.
Heidi, Girl of the Alps was also a huge success in Italy, where it is still one of the best known and loved anime. Its first broadcast was on February 1, 1978, and it had very successful yearly re-runs. A good amount of popularity is also enjoyed by the closing song of the Italian version, sang by Elisabetta Viviani.
Despite this series' international popularity, it is less well known in the English language. The entire series has been re-dubbed into English on two separate occasions — first in the late 1970s, when the series was shown in the Philippines, and again in 2001 for broadcast in India on Cartoon Network. Although this dub was done by the animation studio for airing in India, they never included the English audio on subsequent DVD releases. Interestingly, none of the DVD releases around the world have English subtitles on them either.
The only version of the Heidi anime to have been commercially released in the United States is a completely separate feature-length movie version of the TV series, initially released in 1975 and later directly to home video in the U.S. sometime in the 1980s by Pacific Arts under the title The Story of Heidi. The American version was produced by Claudio Guzman and Charles Ver Halen and featured a voice cast including Randi Kiger as Heidi, Billy Whitaker as Peter, Michelle Laurita as Clara, Vic Perrin as Alm-Ohi, The Doctor and Postman, Alan Reed as Sebastian and Mr. Usher, and legendary voice talent Janet Waldoas Aunt Dete. This dub also changes the name of the dog Josef to Bernard, ostensibly because he is a St. Bernard.
There is now a 2015 English version of Heidi available for streaming on Netflix in the U.S. and U.K.
Heidi, Girl of the Alps is still popular in Japan today — the love for Heidi has drawn thousands of Japanese tourists to the Swiss Alps. Japanese heavy metal rock band Animetal made a cover of the show's original theme song.
A feature-length film was edited from the series in 1979 by Zuiyo (which by then was a separate entity from Nippon Animation, which employed many of the TV series' animation staff). All cast were replaced excluding Heidi and the grandfather. This movie is also the only incarnation of the Heidi anime to have been released commercially in the USA in English (on home video in the 1980s). Isao Takahata remarked "Neither Hayao Miyazaki nor I are completely related to any shortening version" on this work.