Blu-ray Review: My Neighbor Totoro

The desire to be the next Walt Disney has been a major curse for many dreaming animators. The press agents at Disney make it seem easy to follow Walt’s model of family entertainment success. You create likeable characters that kids embrace. A few weeks later, you’ll open a massive theme park so that the kids can hug them and buy all the toys. But what most people forget to notice is Walt nearly went broke at nearly every stage of his career. His formula for success isn’t a Betty Crocker recipe. His biography is the story of a guy who had a hot streak playing Blackjack in Vegas. Not everyone can duplicate him otherwise every filmmaker with a handful of animation cells would be a moguls. But that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to be the next Walt Disney at certain levels. Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki is one of the few people who has been able to grasp the dream of Walt Disney without recounting his career in a bankruptcy court transcript. His Studio Ghibli has made international hits and won major awards since the mid-’80s. One of his first hits was My Neighbor Totoro. The movie allowed him to be recognized as a filmmaker that understood how to make lovable characters that could be universally embraced.

What Miyazaki was able to do was combine the charms found not only in Disney’s animated efforts, but their live action films. My Neighbor Totoro has both the cute animated character and the heartwarming family tale. A professor and his two daughters, Mei and Satsuki, move to a house in the countryside to be closer to their mother. She’s recovering at a hospital from an illness. The father does his best to comfort the girls in this strange place. What makes things a little more difficult is rumors that their new house is haunted. The father doesn’t want his daughters to be frightened of the spirits. He scares them away with his protective nature. While exploring the countryside, Mei discovers magical animals that look like egg-shaped rabbits. They are the Totoro. Turns out that the largest of these creatures is the Keeper of the Forest. He can only be seen by children and only children he wants to see him. This sets off a series of events includes the girls riding in a bus that’s a giant cat and one sister getting lost. The crisis arrives when one sister is feared to be trapped in another dimension. It’s a G-rated film so it shouldn’t be too traumatic to younger viewers. Not to completely spoil the movie, but the sick mother doesn’t suffer the same fate as many mothers in Disney films.

My Neighbor Totoro delves into a weirdness rarely seen in American family animated films. The story is grounded in the relationship between the father and his daughters so the odd moments are involving instead of confusing. The family bond allows the audience to accept what could easily be seen nonsense in the hands of a lesser director. Miyazaki understands that while it’s good to have a cute animated character, the movie won’t work if the emotions are false. This is why Miyazaki has been able to keep making his movies at Studio Ghibli as an iconic director and not stuck making anime. The movie wisely has a fine American voice cast including Dakota Fanning, Elle Fanning and Tim Daly so your kids aren’t upset at reading subtitles. Nearly 30 years after the film is released, a My Neighbor Totoro theme park is opening in Nagoya, Japan. Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli have achieved the Disney dream.

My Neighbor Totoro is a family drama that smoothly slides into a spiritual fantasy. Two girls and their father explore life in their new country home and discover magical creatures living around them. This is a sweet and spiritual animated film that a fine introduction to Miyazaki’s work.

The video is 1.85:1 anamorphic. The 1080p transfer brings out the complete beauty of the rural Japanese landscape when the girls explore the woods. The audio is a 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio in English, Japanese and French. The Japanese mix has the most atmosphere. There’s something a little too dry about English dub even with a good voice cast. The subtitles are English and French. You can play the Japanese and read along in English.

DVD contains the movie and bonus features.

Original Japanese Storyboards (86 minutes) gives us the entire movie using the pencil sketches of the scenes.

Creating My Neighbor Totoro (2:58) has Miyzaki explain the story started as a children’s book written when he was frustrated doing TV animation.

Creating the Characters (4:24) discusses how the filmmakers pondered unveiling their huge creation.

The Totoro Experience (2:00) has the producer discuss the success of the film and the characters. Miyzaki admit he didn’t think the film would be a major hit.

Producers Perspective: Creating Ghibli (1:23) is a quick memory about how it was an ideal time for them to launch their own animation studio in Japan.

The Locations of Totoro (28:38) is a Japanese documentary that explores the area which inspired the scenery. It’s subtitled.

Scoring Miyzaki (7:18) explores the music that creates the magical elements of the films. The music is as important as the visuals for the director.

Original Japanese Trailer (0:53) are extreme teaser trailers.

Behind the Microphone (5:39) takes us into the audio booth with the American voice actors. Dakota Fanning was so young when she did it.

8-page Booklet with Producer’s and Director’s Statements.

Shout! Factory & GKIDS present My Neighbor Totoro. Written and Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki. Starring: Dakota Fanning, Elle Fanning and Timothy Daly. Running Time: 86 minutes. Rated: G. Released: October 17, 2017.

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