animefringe january 2003 / reviews

My Neighbor Totoro
Format: dub only, movie, 87 min.
Production: 20th Century Fox / Studio Ghibli / Hayao Miyazaki
Comments: A sparse DVD that houses a truly magical motion picture.
Animefringe Reviews:
My Neighbor Totoro

To say the market is starved for Studio Ghibli movies would be an understatement. The god-awful release of Warriors of the Wind back in the eighties, My Neighbor Totoro in the early nineties, the much-welcomed Kiki's Delivery Service and Princess Mononoke in the late nineties were but a small portion of the body of Hayao Miyazaki's work that seeped onto the market. Yet, only Princess Mononoke and Grave of the Fireflies have managed to appear on DVD.

In December, 20th Century Fox released a nice little surprise by releasing My Neighbor Totoro on DVD for the first time in the United States. While families might enjoy having this title to show their kids, anime fans might be more than a little hesitant to add this title to their collections, and herein lays the DVD's problems: It's dub only, pan and scan, and doesn't have any extras what so ever. But you shouldn't let that bother you. You'll more than get your money's worth.

If you're still with me, it's worth mentioning that this DVD can be had for $14.98 or less. Not a bad price, considering it's a feature film that clocks in at around 87 minutes. However, if by chance you still own the VHS copy of this dub, then you might want to hold out for a few more years until Disney finally is able to release their own version since Fox's release does have some minor edits. Consider for a moment that this version was made in 1993, that's well before the anime boom and a time when standards and practices dictated that animals couldn't eat giant leaves in fear that little children would mimic the behavior. So the edits found within (they're well documented all over the net) are very minor and thankfully hardly even noticeable until told specifically where they appear.

My Neighbor Totoro is a fun romp that represents the childish innocence that fills so many of the Ghibli films. Having personally seen a large chunk of the Ghibli catalogue, a number of common themes begin to emerge between films. Though they are almost always minor items such as characters moving to new towns or fanciful locals and animals (soot sprites anyone?), the core themes do help to tie the films somewhat together much in the same way that the Disney universe is tied together by similar running themes. Having recently seen Spirited Away, watching My Neighbor Totoro helped me to fully grasp why these films are such masterpieces. They are often simple pieces that can be viewed by anyone no matter their age, sex, race, or nationality.

Enough of the soap box treatment. What redeems Fox's release of this cherished classic is the movie itself. It's an hour and a half of wonder and amazement that begins with a father and his two daughters, Satsuki and Mei, moving into a remote country house at the base of a tree-covered mountain. The moment the girls get out of the rickety moving truck, their adventure begins as they run and frolic through their new surroundings trying to take in the new sights, sounds, and smells. So much is captured in these few minutes that older viewers will undoubtedly be left reliving their own memories of their childhood.

From there the kids check out their house, which due to its age, is believed to be haunted. Acorns can be found dropping from the ceiling, rooms are filled with soot sprits (think black dust bunnies) that scurry away like cockroaches at the slightest sign of light, and the wind howls as it beats up against the sides of the settling house. By the time that Totoro actually appears, the anticipation has mounted to such a point that it's a truly magical sight to behold. Truly, this is a movie that is meant to be seen by one and all.

The dub for this release has held up rather nicely over the years. Anyone remotely familiar with Rugrats will instantly recognize the voice of Mei as that of Angelica's voice actor Cheryl Chase. Sooner or later though, the dub might give the average listener a headache from all the screaming the girls do, luckily not the degree of the migraine that Excel Saga can dish out. The music though is highly redeeming, as the melodies and tunes present will likely entice viewers into scouring the net for their favorite tracks or even splurging on the soundtrack.

Sure it's a stripped-down title, but one that deserves to be on any family's DVD rack. My only question is why on Earth did the re-release of the VHS tape have flipped artwork?