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Walt Disney Home Video presents
My Neighbor Totoro (Tonari no Totoro) (1988)

Satsuki: Dad, come here! There's definitely something weird in this house!
Dad: That's great! I've always wanted to live in a haunted house, ever since I was a little boy.

- Dakota Fanning, Tim Daly

Review By: Joel Cunningham  
Published: March 07, 2006

Stars: Dakota Fanning, Elle Fanning
Other Stars: Tim Daly, Pat Carroll, Lea Salonga
Director: Hayao Miyazaki

MPAA Rating: G for (animated rear ends during an innocent bathtub scene)
Run Time: 01h:28m:29s
Release Date: March 07, 2006
UPC: 786936175271
Genre: animation

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

The best children's films are the ones that allow you to glimpse the world through the eyes of a child. In that respect, Japanese animation legend Hayao Miyazaki is truly a master. While his films have tackled everything from spirituality to man's responsibilities to nature, the best of them—Spirited Away, Kiki's Delivery Service—are magical stories about the way the world can be a fascinating and scary place for a child.

Miyazaki's My Neighbor Totoro, one of his earliest and best-loved films, is certainly a part of this tradition. It's about sisters Satsuki and Mei (voiced in the new, Disney-produced dub by sisters Dakota and Elle Fanning), who have just moved into a ramshackle, slightly spooky new home with their father (Tim Daly), while their mother (Lea Salonga) is in the hospital, recovering from a long illness.

The girls think their new house may be haunted—perhaps by the same soot spirits Miyazaki later employed in Spirited Away—but the prospect fills them with delight rather than dread. Their wonder increases when they encounter Totoro, a giant, playful forest spirit that has an impossibly wide mouth and tiny, curious eyes. Totoro visits them in the night, takes them flying, and introduces them to a catbus, which is exactly what it sounds like—a living bus with the head and legs of a cat.

If you've seen Spirited Away, you know Miyazaki's talent for populating his films with bizarre creatures, often drawn from Japanese myth. What's surprising is how small a role they play in Totoro. The title character doesn't even appear until halfway through the movie, and only has maybe 10 minutes of screen time total. I love that we're never quite sure if what we're seeing is all in the sisters' imagination (dad seems to believe the spirits are real, though he can't see them).

Spirited Away threw us into the middle of Miyazaki's dream world, and it was almost exhausting, but Totoro offers only a few glimpses. Yet the rest of the film is just as captivating, because Satsuki and Mei seem like real kids. They have a relationship that looks totally natural. The quarrel and play games and look after one another, and seem like anything but your typical movie characters. We spend so long getting attuned to their everyday lives that the brief appearance of a forest spirit is somehow all the more magical for us, too. Those who will be watching in English will appreciate the fact that real-life sisters were cast in the Satsuki and Mei roles, lending them an air of natural chemistry and believability that would be hard to duplicate otherwise.

On a technical level, Totoro holds up well even after 20 years. Facial animation is still somewhat basic compared to what we're used to seeing in modern Disney films (characters never do cry realistically in Japanese animation), but the lush, forested backgrounds (like many of Miyazaki's films, Totoro includes a subtle environmentalist theme) and, especially, the wonderful and whimsical creature designs, are in a class of their own. In this era of all CGI, all the time animation, it's nice to be reminded that artistry can spring from ink and paint and hard drive alike.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Previously released in Region 1 in full frame only by Fox, My Neighbor Totoro looks very nice for an animated film approaching its 20th anniversary. Colors are nice and bright, and outlines are clean and free of noticeable edge enhancement. Darker scenes do tend to have a slightly grainy look when compared to the rest of the film, but it's not what I'd call a real problem. The source print appears very clean, with no visible marks or scratches.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Japanese, French Stereoyes

Audio Transfer Review: One of Studio Ghibli's earlier films, My Neighbor Totoro is presented in 2.0 stereo rather than surround sound, but the mix is nevertheless very good. The English and French dubs and the original Japanese track all sound about the same. Dialogue is front and center and comes across clearly. The score expands the front soundstage in the quieter moments, while sound effects such as wind and rain and Totoro's howls sound full-bodied despite a lack of surround action.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English captions, English subtitles with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
6 Other Trailer(s) featuring Studio Ghibli films, The Little Mermaid: SE, Cars, Chicken Little, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Airbuddies
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Complete storyboard version of the film
  2. Clean open and closing animation
Extras Review: This is the fourth "wave" of Studio Ghibli titles from Disney, so fans probably know exactly what to expect in terms of bonus features on this two-disc set.

As usual, Disc 2 includes the entire film in storyboard form, a treat for budding animators or anyone interested in comparing the final film to a work in progress.

Disc 1 has everything else. There's another Behind the Microphone featurette (05m:35s) featuring interviews with Dakota and Elle Fanning, Tim Daly, Pat Carroll, and Lea Salonga, who discuss their characters and the process of recording dialogue for finished animation. I liked seeing Dakota interact with her little sister, if only to have confirmation that, in fact, she is a little kid, and not some sort of robot, as many have previously suspected.

There's also a Japanese trailer, the opening and closing animation sequences in English and Japanese, minus credits, and a preview gallery, including an omnibus spot for the Studio Ghibli films, and trailers for The Little Mermaid: SE, Cars, Chicken Little, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and Airbuddies, which ups the cute puppy factor to a solid 11.

Extras Grade: C


Final Comments

The sweet, melancholy tale of two imaginative sisters, My Neighbor Totoro is both a magical adventure and a wistful look at the way children cope with sadness in their lives. Hayao Miyazaki's film has some darker touches, but it's also nearly impossible to dislike, a joyous film told from the point of view of two little girls that will entrance viewers of all ages.


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