One of the most beloved of master Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki's films (and that's saying something, as most of Miyazaki's films are considered treasures), "My Neighbor Totoro" (originally released in 1988) focuses on the adventures of Satsuki (voiced in the new English dub by Dakota Fanning) and Mei (sister Elle Fanning). The two girls have moved to the country with their father (voiced by Tim Daly), while their mother is recovering in the hospital.
The house that they're living in is old and just a bit rundown, but filled with character and, as the girls find out, possibly a few spirits. Small soot spirits (which look like the ones seen in the director's "Spirited Away") scurry about the house and curiously look upon the new arrivals.
One afternoon, Mei spots a small little spirit scurrying about the yard. It eventually leads her to the forest, where she is confronted by a large woodland spirit called a Totoro, the full-sized version of which looks like a bunny on steroids (yet still impossibly cute.) Eventually, the Totoro leads Mei and Satsuski to an encounter with a cat-bus (the Totoro silently standing next to the two girls waiting for the bus is one of the funniest images ever), which is just what it sounds like. The cat-bus is another example of Miyazaki's ability to create characters that say nothing, yet are utterly fascinating, incredibly inspired and say everything with expressions that are perfectly realized.
This gentle little movie achieves a lot: the animation is utterly stunning and it's really quite remarkable that this movie is now nearly 20-years-old. As with all of Miyazaki's movies, while the story is engaging, it's hard not to occasionally be distracted as you admire the amount of detail and craft that went into small details of the image. Another remarkable element is how the movie's messages - encouraging imagination, being respectful and caring of nature - are delivered in a way that's not forced in the slightest, yet often still manages to be moving and occasionally powerful. There's no villain in the movie and not a whole lot of conflict, yet the film still remains riveting thanks to the film's unpredictability, spirit and brilliantly crafted characters. Lastly, the movie is incredibly sweet, yet never gets sappy in the slightest.
"Totoro" remains an absolutely magical piece of work from start to finish, with images that capture the imagination, a heartwarming story and memorable characters. It definitely deserves to be called a classic.
VIDEO: "Totoro" is presented by Disney in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Picture quality isn't without a few slight issues, but it otherwise looked quite nice. Sharpness and detail were mostly quite good, aside from a couple of moments that looked slightly softer than the rest.
The print used did show some very slight dirt and grain at times, but I didn't think this effected the viewing experience all that much. Somewhat more noticable (but still certainly not enough to take away from the viewing experience all that much) was the presence of some minor edge enhancement at times.
The film's rich, vibrant color palette was reproduced beautifully here, as colors looked warm and well-saturated, with no smearing or other issues. Overall, while not without a problem or two, the picture quality of "Totoro" was fine.
SOUND: "Totoro" is presented with its original Japanese stereo audio, as well as a new English dubbed presentation and a French stereo option. While the original Japanese audio is certainly the best way to go, the new English dubbed presentation wasn't bad. The audio quality of both the original and English tracks remained quite pleasing throughout, with crisp, clear dialogue and sound effects.
EXTRAS: The storyboarded version of the film - which was included on the prior release and is an absolutely superb extra for fans of the film - is included on the second disc.
New to this set is a "Behind the Studio" section, which is made up of a series of short featurettes, starting with "The Making of Totoro" (a short subtitled piece that runs about 3 minutes and features thoughts from Miyazaki regarding the origins/inspirations of the project and the production of the film.) Also included are a series of other short pieces on the film, generally running a few minutes each and offering interviews with the director, producer and others: "Creating the Characters", "The Totoro Experience", "Producer's Perspective: Creating Ghibli", "The Locations of Totoro" (a clip from the documentary showcasing the real life locations that inspired Miyazaki) and "Scoring Miyazaki".
We also get the original Japanese trailer and "Behind the Microphone" (which was included on the prior release and provides interviews with the US actors who provided the English dub.) Finally, we also get one sneak peak of an extra from the other Miyazaki titles arriving on the same date - a featurette from the "Ponyo" release, from the "Castle in the Sky" release and from the "Kiki's Delivery Service" release.
Final Thoughts: "Totoro" is a treasure that hooks you in with its creation of a magical world, its ability to get emotional moments without any sort of manipulation and Miyazaki's absolutely memorable characters. This treasure of a film is recommended to families everywhere - it's a treat. This DVD edition offers fine audio/video quality and a few new featurettes. A must-see film.
The Film A+