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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » My Neighbor Totoro
My Neighbor Totoro
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment // G // March 7, 2006
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by John Sinnott | posted March 14, 2006 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
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P R I N T
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The Movie:

I'm always surprised when people will state that they don't like Japanese animation, like it's a genre unto itself.  I've always equated that with saying you don't like American films.  There is such a wide variety of both, that it's inconceivable that someone would dislike it all.  Whenever someone makes a blanket statement like that to me, I usually recommend a film by Japan's premier animator Hayao Miyazaki.  Often described as the "Japanese Walt Disney", Miyazaki makes endearing films that are unlike anything else being made.  They are charming but not sappy and truly enjoyable by all ages.  The Disney Corporation has licensed Miyazaki's catalog and their latest release is one of his earlier, and most humorous, films: My Neighbor Totoro.

Four year old Mei and her big sister Satsuki are moving out to the countryside.  Their father has moved the family so that they can all be closer to their mother, who is sick in the hospital and has been for quite some time.  When the girls first see the big old house that is to be their new home, they are a little apprehensive.  They find acorns that seem to have fallen from the ceiling, and when they open up a back room, it seems to be filled with little black 'soot gremlins' that scurry from their sight as soon as the door is opened.  Because of this they think that the house might be haunted.

While Satsuki goes off to school one day, Mei discovers something odd.  She sees a little transparent creature walking through their garden.  Following the little fellow, Mei crawls through an opening in the undergrowth that leads to a huge Camphor tree.  The creature scampers through a hole in the tree, and the little girl follows him.  There she discovers a huge giant sleeping beast, the spirit of the forest.  She tries to wake him up, to no avail, and eventually falls asleep on his soft, warm fur.

When Satsuki gets home from school, hours later, she and her father discover that Mei is missing.  They discover her sleeping on the floor of the forest.  When she's awoken, the little tot tells her sister that she's scene a "Totoro" (her mispronunciation of the Japanese word for "Troll".)  Satsuki doesn't believe her of course, until she sees him too one day.

People often through out the term "family movie" when they mean a show that kids will like and parents will be able to endure.  Inoffensive cute movies that don't have anything really going for them besides their blandness.  That description doesn't fit My Neighbor Totoro.  This is a real family moive, one that children will want to see again and again and that parents will enjoy watching too.   A film that people of all ages will actually like, not just be able to sit through.  Both my wife (who does not like most anime) and I loved this film as much as my two sons did.

The first thing that strikes viewers is the gorgeous backgrounds that this animated film has.  Though the settings aren't as imaginative as Miyazaki's later works, My Neighbor Totoro has stunning backgrounds with giant green trees and lush forests.  It has a realistic feel to it, but a reality as seen through a child's eyes.

Miyazaki also gets the interplay between the two sisters dead on.  The way Mei follows her big sister around mimicking everything she does as well as trying to act like a 'big girl' was outrageously funny as well as endearing.  Satsuki's impatience with her younger sibling was also realistic and well done.  Though my offspring didn't realize it, Miyazaki could have taken the script directly from some of their interactions a from a few years ago.

If there's one complaint I have, and there is just one, some of the designs weren't as good as they could have been.  Though the cat-bus was great, Mei's expressions sometimes were a little too exaggerated.  When she had a wide smile she looked more than a little like the Grinch who stole Christmas, and when she opened up her mouth to yell, it looked like her face would split in two.

Like a version of Alice in Wonderland (to which the movie has a slight resemblance) that takes place in the real world, My Neighbor Totoro is a wonderfully fun and very humorous film that just makes you feel happy when you watch it.

The DVD:


This two disc set comes in a single width keepcase with one disc on an inserted 'page.'  There is also an insert with a list of chapter stops.

Audio:

At last, region one gets to hear this film in its original language!  This disc comes with three audio tracks, Japanese, French, and English, all in stereo.  The audio tracks all sound very good.  (I watched the film in Japanese and English, and spot checked the French track.)  There is a good amount of range, and the voices are clean and clear.  The music, which is often playing lightly in the background while people are talking, sound very good and the subtle sounds are reproduced faithfully.  The English track, being a recent dub, comes across as being more full and rich, but only slightly.  There are no background noises of dropouts.

The English dub for this film is actually very good.  I had my doubts when I heard that Dakota Fanning (Satsuki) and her sister Elle (Mei) were voicing the main characters, but they do an outstanding job.  They have a lot of chemistry together and really sound like sisters fighting and playing together.  I like this audio track much better than the previous English dub on the Fox DVD.  (Which is still very good.)  This new track just sounds more natural, especially Mei who now sounds like a little girl instead of an adult trying to sound like a little girl.  I am very surprised at how much fun this new English dub is.

There are also subtitles in English and French and a subtitle track in English for the hearing impared.

Video:

The widescreen (1.85:1 - OAR) anamorphic image looks exceptionally good, especially when you compare it to the earlier R1 release from Fox.  The colors are bright and very strong, the lines are tight, and the picture is clear.  Watching this you'll forget that the film is almost 20 years old.  Of course there are some very slight imperfections.  Some scenes have a bit of grain to them, which is minor, and there is a tad of dreaded edge enhancement that has been applied to the image.  This latter defect is minor and will only be noticeable to people with very large screens.

Extras:

This two disc set has a couple of nice bonus features.  The first disc has a clean opening and closing, the original Japanese trailer (which has seen better days...it's very soft and faded), and a Behind the Microphone featurette.  This five and a half minute short has interviews with the lead English voice actors and spends a lot of time watching the Fanning sisters preforming.  It was a bit fluffy, but still nice to watch.

The second disc is devoted to showing the entire film again, but this time with the original storyboards.  While this is nice to have if you are a student of animation, I was underwhelmed.  A scene or two would have been sufficient and I can't really see myself watching the whole movie this way.

Overall, I was expecting more from a two disc set.  An interview with Hayao Miyazaki, either recent or vintage, would have been nice, and I would have enjoyed seeing a gallery of Toroto merchandise that has been sold at one time or another.

Should I upgrade?:

Definitely!  This disc is superior to the old release in every way.   This Disney release presents the film in its OAR and with the original language for the first time.  That alone would be enough to strongly recommend an upgrade, but when you take into account the significantly better picture, stronger English dub, and bonus material, it makes the upgrade decision a no-brainer.

Final Thoughts:

Like all of Miyazaki's films, this one is great.  One of his earlier works, this is also one of the funniest, with some really cute moments that will make the whole family howl with laughter.  A family movie in the truest sense of the term, this movie will be enjoyed by both the children and the adults.  With nothing to scare even the most timid children, My Neighbor Totoro is a wonderful picture that everyone should see.  Highly Recommended.

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