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My Neighbor Totoro Re:tro Review!

Jiji Jondee here at Matsugo,

My Neighbor Totoro is the best animated movie period. What makes a good animated movie? Incredible visuals, an elaborate world, and fun characters. A good number of Disney films fill these criteria. Studio Ghibli films go beyond these and give a gentle pace unlike the quick jumps of Disney and Pixar films. It is a swing on a summer’s day not a race car slam with characters. Writer and director Hayao Miyazaki-san is brilliant in not only capturing childhood worlds and creatures, but also the feeling. If you ever wonder what was it like to be a kid and would like to be one again, then you have to see My Neighbor Totoro. The other part of Studio Ghibli films is that they are sometimes filled with strong themes and dark moments that are true part of fairy tales ignored by Disney, but they are still fit in the wonder that is throughout the films.

It is a slow drive through the Japanese countryside with a father, his two daughters, headed to the village of Matsugo. Tatsuo Kusakabe (voiced by Tim Daly) reassures his daughters, the eldest Satsuki (Dakota Fanning) and Mei (Elle Fanning currently in The Beguiled). The voice cast is incredible, you can see the sister bond working with the Elle and Dakota, it is far superior than the sisters in Frozen. The scene where Mei is frustrated about her mother’s condition, angry, insulted by her sister and then just makes mewling sounds before crying. Great voice work! They pass by a boy, Kanta (Paul Butcher, who was in the Zoey 101 series) who sees Satsuki and is embarrassed. This reminds me so much of the meet cute at the end of Inside Out, “Girl! Girl! Girl!”

Tatsuo is excited about the new house, it looks rickety, and Satsuki rocks one of the weak posts for a trellis. He sends Satsuki to find the stairs and she opens up a room that scatters “soot sprites” called susuwatari in the original. They are basically black bristles with goggly eyes. I love the girls screaming to try to scare off the soot sprites. This fantasy aspect is the magical realism of the Studio Ghibli world. Mei and Satsuki love finding acorns around the house. Tatsuo loves the idea that the house may be haunted. Mei is startled by the appearance of their neighbor, Granny, voiced by the incredible Pat Carroll. She knows all about the wondrous things around the house, Granny was the caretaker of it before it was bought, and brings a calmness to a house without a mother.

Mei warms up to Granny and all alone she chases after acorns. They are being collected by two forest spirits, Blue and White Totoro. Mei follows them into a path made under a massive camphor tree. She ends up on the belly of the giant Totoro voiced by the talented Frank Welker! He roars at wakening, blasting Mei, but she doesn’t have fear which I think is a powerful lesson for young ones. They can see that scary animals may seem frightening, but can understand them as animals, not scary. Slowly, we are drawn into Totoro’s world, he likes Mei and Satsuki, there is a wonderfully absurd scene where they are waiting for a bus in the rain. Totoro is just standing there with a leaf on his head!

They give him their father’s umbrella and he calls for the catbus. The cat bus is one of the most fun creations in animation; a wide eyed cat face, several legs, bus back and tail. Totoro gives them a gift of acorns wrapped in bamboo leaf which they later plant in a garden. Again, if kids get excited about planting a garden or later eating fresh vegetables, this is the best thing in an animated movie! We find out that though that their mother, Yasuko (Lea Salonga who also voiced Mulan), is hospitalized. Her condition keeps her from returning home and this causes Mei and Satsuki to worry. There is no cause for worry though “And you’ll be with To-to-ro, Totoro! To-to-ro, Totoro!” The film was playing though Fathom Events today and tomorrow, June 26th. It is available now on Blu-ray and DVD.

Five Acorns out of Five!

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