MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO
Review by Ed Nguyen
English Voices: Dakota
Fanning, Lea Salonga, Pat Carroll, Tim Daly, Elle Fanning
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1, Japanese, French, or Spanish Dolby Stereo 2.0
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Features: "The World of Ghibli", storyboards
Length: 86 minutes
Release Date: March 2, 2010
"Your house is haunted!"
Ever wonder what that fuzzy rabbit-looking thing is on Studio Ghibli's logo pages? It is none other than Totoro! In actuality, he is not even a rabbit. He is an agreeably plump forest spirit and the lovably kooky bugaboo at the center of Studio Ghibli's beloved animated film My Neighbor Totoro.
Totoro lives inside a tree, a very big one. By day (and night, too), he usually sleeps. On special occasions, he awakens out of his hibernation and wanders out of his leafy den, sometimes with a pair of mini-Totoros. His favorite hobbies include tossing about magical acorns and humming sweet little evensongs in the moonlight while perched upon flimsy tree branches. Adults can't see Totoro. Only children can. And in My Neighbor Totoro, only young Satsuki and her four-year-old sister Mei are lucky enough to meet this gentle giant huffalump.
Satsuki's family has just moved into their new home in the countryside. Satsuki's mother is recovering at a local rural hospital but soon will be able to join the family, too. Until then, Satsuki and her sister relax by exploring their fun new house and roaming the surrounding meadows and lush forests.
Enchantment is all around. There are soot gremlins in the house which must be shooed out gently. There are coppices and copses which sometimes leads to Totoro's magic tree. And sometimes not. There are nonchalant seedlings which magically sprout into gigantic trees by moonlight. There is a cheery Cheshire Cat bus which delivers its passengers anywhere, anytime. And most amazing of all, there is Totoro himself.
My Neighbor Totoro is mainly a family drama about how Satsuki and her sister adjust to life in a new home. Totoro's appearances coincidence with their moments of sadness or distress. He is like a fluffy guardian angel, watching over the woods and helping the trees to grow but also watching over the children and keeping them safe. Not that the countryside is a particularly dangerous place, mind you. In fact, the worst thing that happens in the entire film is that Mei becomes lost one day walking to the hospital, and Satsuki has to recruit Totoro's help to find her.
One might question whether Totoro is merely a figment of the children's imagination, an invisible play-friend conjured up as a surrogate for their absent mother. Or perhaps he is a dream-vision, arriving by night to whisk the children away on magical midnight adventures, only to vanish by the early dawn. Either way, the girls' father freely accepts their belief in this benevolent forest spirit. Instead of pooh-poohing the existence of fantastical critters, the father too believes. Furthermore, he even encourages Satsuki and Mei to follow prayers of thanks at presumably Totoro's tree. And there can be no greater bond between parent and children than that borne of trust and a common belief.
Who is to say, after all, what little spirits might reside in our homes, what ethereal faeries might linger in our gardens, all readily visible if only for those who believe? Children know. And perhaps adults once knew as well and might still remember, if only with a little encouragement from those still young enough and innocent enough to believe in magic.
This version of My Neighbor Totoro replaces a non-anamorphic full-frame DVD by 20th-Century Fox. This new Disney re-release is visually superior and is presented anamorphically in the film's original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Fans of the film originally disappointed in the Fox disc's somewhat muddy appearance will be pleased with the Disney disc's bright colors, crisp details, and very clean presentation.
My Neighbor Totoro can be heard in its original Japanese or via a French or English dub track. All the tracks are equally worthwhile, although the Japanese track is the best at conveying the film's sense of magic and innocence.
Features ** ½
There are two discs for this special edition re-release of My Neighbor Totoro. The first DVD has a new interactive experience called "The World of Ghibli" which takes you inside the lands and characters in the story as well as behind the studio for documentaries, interviews and more.
Disc Two is devoted entirely to a feature-length presentation of the film's storyboards. This is a standard feature for Miyazaki films released by Disney and offers an alternate way of viewing the entire film again, albeit in very rough form (but at least with a finished soundtrack).
My Neighbor Totoro is arguably the most beloved of the Studio Ghibli films. It is a sweet and simple fantasy that incorporates the importance of family unity with director Hayao Miyazaki's environment-friendly message. Highly recommended!