September 14, 2009

My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

ON A CERTAIN LEVEL, I feel ashamed that as a film lover and part-time critic, I’m not more familiar with the work of Japanese animation legend Hayao Miyazaki.

I know that animation buffs love his work, and Disney/Pixar chief creative officer John Lassetter idolizes him (Disney is the US distributor for Miyazaki’s films, including the recent Ponyo). However, the one Miyazaki film I did see, Spirited Away, left me underwhelmed and confused.

So I convinced Dash we should watch what’s considered to be one of Miyazaki’s best films, My Neighbor Totoro.

Sisters Satsuki (Dakota Fanning) and Mei (Elle Fanning) move into a new home in the countryside with their father (Tim Daly), while their mother (Alexandra Kenworthy) recovers from an illness at a nearby hospital. The sisters soon find they have a magical new neighbor, Totoro – a forest spirit whose creatures can only be seen by the children.


• The first and most pronounced aspect of My Neighbor Totoro is the rich, amazing scenery: green forests, wide landscapes, and sprawling fields – each looking as if they were taken from a painting.

• With sisters Satsuki and Mei, Miyazaki totally nails the older/younger sibling relationship as the girls alternately play and bicker while discovering their new home and debating what to do about the Totoro.

The titular Totoro have limited screen time – maybe only a third of the film’s 86 minutes. However, in a way it makes their appearances that much more special, especially when the Totoro and the girls take a ride in the magical cat bus.

• The large Totoro creature is voiced by animation legend Frank Welker (Scooby-Doo) – though since his work consists of nothing but growls and roars, you wouldn’t know it’s him (similar to his work in The Legend of Sasquatch).

My Neighbor Totoro is a fun adventure – a nice detour from a lot of today’s frenetic animated features. Check it out if you’re given the chance.


What did Dash think?
I was worried Dash may not give My Neighbor Totoro a chance, for several reasons:
• He’s not used to the Japanese style of animation (the less-than-fluid style where it seems like they skipped every other frame)
• The movie’s not jam-packed with action
• He was put off by a couple of scary shots early in the film (a dark, foreboding staircase, cracks in walls)
However, he stayed with the movie intently. He laughed at the antics in the opening credits, listened to the sisters’ dialogue, and cracked up several times when the Totoro made their appearances (especially at the way the smaller ones scurried about).

Will your kids like it?
My Neighbor Totoro is an enjoyable film for all ages. Even what may seem like questionable content (a couple of scary scenes, a sick mother, a girl goes missing) shouldn’t be too much for younger kids to handle.

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
My Neighbor Totoro is a cute, original story that emphasizes the importance of family and believing in your children. I think she would find it a fun flick to watch with the kids.

My Neighbor Totoro
• Director: Hayao Miyazaki
• Screenwriter: Hayao Miyazaki
• Stars: Dakota Fanning, Elle Fanning, Tim Daly, Alexandra Kenworthy, Frank Welker
• MPAA Rating: G

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Rent My Neighbor Totoro at Netflix >>


Classic Maiden said...

First of all, I really like you blog.

I discovered the work of Hayao Miyazaki rather late too, but through watching his work he easily became one of my favourite directors.

TALKING MOVIEzzz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
James (SeattleDad) said...

The only film of his I have seen is Sprited Away, and I liked the animation, so will want to check this out. Thanks/

Kristin said...

I was going to ask how the Fannings starred in a 1988 movie, but Moviezzz addressed that in his/her comment. :)

FilmFather said...

@Moviezzz/Kristin: Yep, rented the Disney 2006 special edition, hence the Fannings.

Jim @ said...

I saw Spirited Away also a few years back, enjoyed it. I would be interested to hear if you saw it.


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