Japanese Title: Tonari no Totoro
Related: Mei and the Baby Cat Bus (spin-off)
Similar: Wolf Children
Watched in: Japanese & English (Disney version)
Length: 1 hr. 26 min.
- Disgustingly adorable.
- Heart-warming characters and emotion.
- Ghibli quality standards.
- Excellent child writing and acting.
- Could do with more adventure.
Right now in your house, balls of black puff called soot gremlins hide in your bathroom and behind the oven. Can’t see them? Ah well, I guess you’re too old then. That’s My Neighbor Totoro’s premise as it explores childhood innocence from the view of two sisters.
Satsuki and Mei move to the countryside (did Miyazaki relocate a lot as a child, or something, to have this recurring setup?) with their father while the mother is in hospital. Soot gremlins hide in baths, scurrying away at first sight, and rabbit-raccoon-like Totoro spirits live in the forest next door. The adults see naught, too busy with work and life to notice the magic beneath the canopy, but children, they possess the imagination and wonder to look deep in the forest and find the magic within.
This film is so cute. The opening sequence alone was enough to have me in a seizure of cuteness. How do they do it? How does Ghibli make everything so adorable? The three Totoros are cute enough, but add in Studio Ghibli’s perfect depiction of children and it’s overkill. Miyazaki, you have a death on your hands, for you slew me with cuteness. Older sister Satsuki is at that stage where she’s learning of the real world, on the precipice of losing innocence, yet with a little encouragement for little sister Mei, she can still embrace imagination.
One of my favourite moments was with the lunchboxes. Satsuki makes everyone lunch, and Mei loves the lunch box so much that she can’t wait to eat it. Just after Satsuki leaves, Mei – too young for school – is running in the background to her father’s work and asks if it’s lunchtime. Breakfast hasn’t even gone down yet! It’s such a kid thing to do. Does it add to the story? No. It sums up Mei in a single scene, however.
Following the acorns, which Totoro love so much, she soon meets those very creatures, including the Snorlax of Totoro, Big-Totoro (or King-Totoro). She’s fearless in the face of his roars. They also meet a Catbus. No, not a cat with a bus, but a cat that is a bus. Creepy, certainly, but still I find it adorable. It must be what inspired Harry Potter’s Knight Bus, as trees jump out of the way and people can’t see it zoom by.
After smothering you with cute, My Neighbor Totoro brings matters down with heavy emotion. Not too much as to become Grave of the Fireflies (please not again, I beg of you!), though still enough to add weight to the story and make you ache. The family drama is just right.
I found only one major problem in the otherwise great My Neighbor Totoro. It doesn’t have enough adventure. Mei and Satsuki play with the creatures but a little before the third act (when drama dominates). I would have liked an extra fifteen to twenty minutes within those first encounters to go on an adventure. Think Chihiro’s first time working in Spirited Away’s bathhouse, Kiki’s first delivery, or Sophie’s excursion downtown in Howl’s Moving Castle. This film misses that segment. Outside that, I love it.
My Neighbor Totoro is filled with imagination, capturing that sense of childhood innocence in a manner few films can boast. I had returned to my infancy until the credits ended. If a child ever told you they saw a Totoro, you’d be sure they were lying, but a part of you may just think it’s the truth.
Art – Very High
Gorgeous art and animation (I feel like I’m repeating myself with Ghibli at this point). Creative with its adorable creatures.
Sound – Very High
Custom orchestral soundtrack to match the movements like classic Disney. Great acting – the dub is fantastic – perfect kids supplied with natural child dialogue.
Story – High
Moving to a new house in the countryside, imagination permits two girls to befriend spirits of the forest. Disgustingly adorable and heartfelt, but My Neighbor Totoro could have extended the adventure portion of the film.
Overall Quality – Very High
Recommendation: A must watch. My Neighbor Totoro has to be Ghibli’s most adorable film (there can’t be cuter, can there?) and is an easy recommendation for all ages.
Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)