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My Neighbor Totoro

Fox // Unrated // December 3, 2002
List Price: $14.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Jason Bovberg | posted January 5, 2003 | E-mail the Author

WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?

First of all, and quite depressingly, this DVD release of Hayao Miyazaki's My Neighbor Totoro is something of a travesty. Labeled as a "Family Feature" by Fox, the presentation begins with the fateful words, This film has been modified from its original version. It has been formatted to fit your TV. Well, not my TV! To make matters worse, the opening credits appear in the appropriate aspect ratio, giving you a tease of what you'll be missing. To make matters still worse, all you get is a tinny Dolby Digital 2.0 English dub. Now that I've delivered the bad news of this unfortunate DVD presentation, I'll talk a little about the movie, which is wonderful.

Miyazaki is the genius who brought us, more recently, Kiki's Delivery Service, Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away. Like those films, but to a greater extent, his My Neighbor Totoro is almost an anomaly among children's films. It's set in the real world but inhabited by fantastical, ghostly animals whose intentions are benevolent and helpful. Fashioned lovingly, by hand, this is a masterpiece of animation with a huge, warm, thumping heart and a beaming smile.

The film tells the story of two young sisters, Satsuki and Mei Kusakabe. With their father, they're moving to a new house on the edge of a towering forest. We learn gradually that their mother is ill, and this device helps us understand the strong love that all the family members feel for each other. We also learn gradually that the house they're moving into is inhabited by spirits. The two girls explore the house with their new knowledge, and they do so with wide-eyed curiosity instead of fear and dread. I loved the way all the characters embrace the spirit world.

It's left to your imagination to decide whether these spirits and ghostly creatures actually exist or are simply figments of active imaginations. But within the story, the creatures are cheerfully mysterious symbols of the natural world. There's a general feeling of nature exploration throughout the film, as the characters wander across the countryside collecting flowers and dancing with moths. Offhand, I can think of no better children's film to share with your family. It is full of light magic and a love for family, companionship, imagination, and life.

HOW'S IT LOOK?

Fox presents My Neighbor Totoro in a hugely disappointing pan-and-scan transfer of the film's original 1.85:1 theatrical presentation. Apparently, Fox had access only to this chopped version of the film, and the rights to the widescreen version are owned by another company. If you can possibly get past that disappointment, the image shows nice detail and vivid, rich colors. However, I noticed some minor digital artifacting and shimmering. Otherwise, image quality, as with most animation, is beautiful. Edge halos are present but subtle.

HOW'S IT SOUND?

The only track is a rather annoying Dolby Digital 2.0 English dub. The sound is irritatingly high-pitched and tinny, lacking any real depth. Audio is centered at the screen, for a mediocre-at-best audio experience. The voice acting is often shrill.

WHAT ELSE IS THERE?

Nothing.

WHAT'S LEFT TO SAY?

A great family film is hacked and raped for the square screen. Hopefully, My Neighbor Totoro will eventually see a proper release that discerning film lovers—who appreciate watching films as they were intended by their directors to be seen—can enjoy too. This release should be considered only rental-worthy, so that you and your family can at least enjoy the story.

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