Combustible Celluloid
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With: (English language voices) Dakota Fanning, Elle Fanning, Tim Daly, Pat Carroll, Lea Salonga, Frank Welker, Paul Butcher, Matt Adler, Newell Alexander, David Midthunder, J.P. Manoux
Written by: Hayao Miyazaki
Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki
MPAA Rating: G
Language: Japanese (or English) with English subtitles
Running Time: 86
Date: 16/04/1988

My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Big Fuzzy Friend

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

With My Neighbor Totoro, Hayao Miyazaki achieved his first full-fledged masterpiece. Sure, his previous work is still outstanding, but it's steeped in the traditional post-apocalyptic anime past (epitomized by Akira). Here he escapes into something truly sublime.

The simple story has two young girls and their father moving to a country house while their mother is in the hospital. The younger, Mei, and her older sister Satsuki, slowly get to know their surroundings. This includes a secret, thick woods nearby, where Mei accidentally meets Totoro, a giant, fuzzy creature, kind of a cross between a cat and a rabbit. When he yawns, his jaw gapes open like a cave, but he's never menacing. If anything, he wears a continually thoughtful, maybe even puzzled, expression on his face. He occasionally shows up to offer help, like a ride home on a cat bus or planting a magical tree.

Miyazaki never lets these magical asides affect the real thrust of the story, nor does he weigh the drama down with unnecessary hysterics. It has an easygoing flow, like a breeze carrying a spray of cherry blossoms, and there's definitely a sense of Yasujiro Ozu's relaxing, humane influence. Regardless, My Neighbor Totoro remains a true classic, and a real contender for the greatest animated family film ever made.

DVD Details: In 2002, Fox released My Neighbor Totoro on a lousy DVD that was panned-and-scanned and featured only a hastily-dubbed English language track, and so this new Disney version is most welcome. It comes letterboxed and features the original Japanese soundtrack as well as a new, beautifully-done English soundtrack. As with the other Studio Ghibli releases, it comes with storyboards, trailers and a "behind-the-microphone" featurette. In 2010, Disney re-issued the out-of-print DVD with a new interactive extra: "The World of Ghibli," and a "collectible litho."

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