"MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO"
by Kevin Carr
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|| MOVIE: ****1/2 (out of 5 stars)
DVD EXPERIENCE: *** (out of 5 stars)
Dakota Fanning as SATSUKI
Elle Fanning as MEI
Tim Daly as DAD
Pat Carroll as GRANDMOTHER
Lea Salonga as MOM
Studio: Disney/Studio Ghibli
Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki
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Hayao Miyazaki’s films have become relatively well known and revered in the United States. After winning the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature for “Spirited Away” and receiving a second nomination for the same category for “Howl’s Moving Castle,” the films have really built a fine reputation for Studio Ghibli.
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However, the recently re-released “My Neighbor Totoro” sits atop all the others I’ve seen as my favorite Ghibli import.
“My Neighbor Totoro” tells a relatively simple story of two young girls named Satsuki (Dakota Fanning) and Mei (Elle Fanning) who move into a new home with their father (Tim Daly). Their mother (Lea Salonga) is sick and in the hospital, so the girls have to help their dad move into the new house by themselves.
As they move in, they discover some ghostly spirits in the house and the woods around it. However, instead of being malevolent, these spirits are more mischievous. They take the forms of soot gremlins that scurry around playfully instead of posing any real threat.
Mei, the younger sister, wanders into the woods and discovers more spirit creatures living there. One of them is named Totoro, and he’s basically an enormous fat squirrel type creature who sleeps under a tree. Totoro and his friends can only be seen by the eyes of a child, and he soon makes friends with Mei and Satsuki. One day, Mei disappears, trying to look for her mother, and Satsuki must ask the forest spirits for help in finding her.
The beauty of “My Neighbor Totoro” is its simplicity. It’s a warm and friendly story that just made me feel good after watching it. The world is presented with the sense of wonder that a child has, offering amazing, fantastic things along with the mundane. Because it’s told from a child’s point of view, these fantastic elements make complete sense and don’t seem out of place.
While Mei is the headstrong one who believes unquestionably in the forest spirits, the more interesting character is Satsuki, who is on the verge of growing up. However, the warmth and friendliness of Totoro and his friends keep her grounded in child-like fantasy.
I fell in love with the characters, and I fell in love with this movie. Other Ghibli films offer sweeping, epic rides through brilliant fantasy lands, but none so far have captured my heart the way that “My Neighbor Totoro” did.
The new DVD release includes two discs, with the original Japanese storyboards included in feature-length on the second disc. Other special features on the first disc include a “Behind the Microphone” segment with the English-language cast as well as the original trailers.
“My Neighbor Totoro” is a sweet, fun film that keeps dreams alive and challenges kids to use their imagination. It doesn’t crush creativity like so-called sensible children’s programming. Instead, it lets the viewer have the fantasy outlook of a child, and it was a joy to feel that once again.
Specifications: Dolby 2.0 Stereo. Widescreen (1.85:1), enhanced for 16x9 televisions. French and original Japanese language tracks. English language subtitles for the hearing impaired.