Mania Grade: B+
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- My Neighbor Totoro: Grade: A
- Starring: Paul Butcher, Dakota Fanning, Elle Fanning, Tim Daly
- Written By: Hayao Miyazaki
- Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki
- Howl’s Moving Castle: Grade: C
- Starring: Jean Simmons, Christian Bale, Lauren Bacall, Blythe Danner
- Written By: Hayao Miyazaki (screenplay), Diana Wynne Jones (novel)
- Directed By: Hayao Miyazaki
- Special Features: See Below
My Neighbor Totoro and Howls Moving Castle Blu-ray Review
Imaginative tales with bountiful heart
By Kimberly McCall
June 17, 2013
I suppose it is fair to say that I will never turn down the opportunity to watch a Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away, Ponyo) animated film. They always consist of imaginative tales with bountiful heart and adventure. The problem is, almost all of these magical films never fail to lose me about halfway in. While the story lines and animation always captivate me initially, I always end up frustrated with what I feel is a wasted opportunity.
Now, then, why is it that I keep giving Miyazaki films a chance? I have incredible respect for him as a filmmaker/animator. I believe in his original and adapted stories and always press “play” with an open mind. With the double blu-ray release of the classic My Neighbor Totoro and the more modern Howl’s Moving Castle, I (as always) placed my inner critic aside in anticipation of being carried off into magic.
My Neighbor Totoro Blu-ray Review
Despite it being a cult classic in its own right, I had never seen My Neighbor Totoro (1988), not even after the English dubbed re-release by Disney in 2005. Sure, I had seen the the giant stuffed rabbit-bear thing at various pop culture conventions and was familiar with the general premise, but I never got around to a watch. I’m glad I finally did. The story is a familiar one of two young sisters (voiced by real life sisters Dakota and Elle Fanning for the 2005 English release) who live with their loving father (Tim Daly) while their mother is in the hospital. It is through childhood curiosity that they stumble upon Totoro, a friendly, magical creature who lives in the forest by their house.
Even with the title character not appearing until almost 25 minutes into the story, My Neighbor Totoro is a sweet, captivating tale that keeps moving with the occasional tiny pause to enjoy the scenery. This one will take its place among the few Miyazaki films that I completely enjoyed and I wish it had been the first one I had ever seen.
The blu-ray itself looked stunning. Even if one doesn’t care for the Japanese animation style, it’s impossible to deny the gorgeous light and color, even in the simplest drawings and details. The special features present subtitled interviews with Miyazaki and producer, Toru Hara as they discuss the creative process and their own feelings about their beloved classic (worth the watch for the original artwork). The segment “Behind the Microphone” presents a bland glimpse into a day at work for the English voiceover actors and there are, of course, original trailers and posters. MANIA GRADE: A-
Howl’s Moving Castle Blu-ray Review
I’ve been playing tag with this film on Netflix for the last couple years before finally catching it on blu-ray. Once again, it sounded like a fantastic story. A meek young Sophie (Emily Mortimer) is swept off her feet by a magical wizard named Howl (Christian Bale), only to be discovered by an evil witch (Lauren Bacall) and cursed to a premature elderly state (wonderfully voiced by the late Jean Simmons). In her quest to break the curse, she tracks down the mysterious Howl in his legged, wandering castle and forms a family unit with him and his companions.
Despite the magnificent storyline and imaginative animation, this film lost me halfway through. Adapted from a wonderfully moving story by Diana Wynne, Howl’s Moving Castle seems to have lost something in the Miyazaki rewrite of the screenplay. Frankly, it drags. It’s almost as if the creative team didn’t understand how to portray some scenes and allowed them to falter a bit. The English voices lost me with Christian Bale (voiceover directors should have let him keep his accent) and Billy Crystal, who, despite his talent, was ill-cast as fire demon. This film was, yet again, another incredibly imaginative idea gone bland in its execution onto the screen.
The blu-ray experience is another story. The sense of surroundings and color was breathtaking. You could almost feel the sunsets and the wind and the walking castle, itself, was astounding to behold. The special features were disappointingly few. The best one was, perhaps, a documentation of Miyazaki’s visit to Pixar for the first screening of Disney’s English version. “Behind the Microphone” was also a small treat if only to watch Jean Simmons and Lauren Bacall do voice acting.
Some Mayazaki films come through for me and others don’t. However, I will always recommend watching them and deciding for yourself how these special films affect you. It is never worth skipping over what might turn out to be something wonderful and inspiring. MANIA GRADE: C
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