My Neighbor Totoro - Mania.com



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Info:

  • Audio Rating: B+
  • Video Rating: B+
  • Packaging Rating: A-
  • Menus Rating: B+
  • Extras Rating: B+
  • Age Rating: 3 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: Buena Vista Home Entertainment
  • MSRP: 29.98
  • Running time: 86
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: My Neighbor Totor

My Neighbor Totoro

By Chris Beveridge     March 02, 2006
Release Date: March 07, 2006


My Neighbor Totoro
© Buena Vista Home Entertainment


What They Say
Critically acclaimed as one of the most delightful and charming family films ever, My Neighbor Totoro is a stunning animated treat full of magical adventure from Hayao Miyazaki.

Follow the adventures of Satsuki and her four-year-old sister Mei when they move into a new home in the countryside. To their delight, they discover that their new neighbor is a mysterious forest spirit called Totoro, who can be seen only through the eyes of a child.

Totoro introduces them to extraordinary characters - including a cat that doubles as a bus! - and takes them on an incredible journey.

The Review!
Quite possibly one of the most accessible and child friendly films of the Ghibli library, My Neighbor Totoro finally sees a full bilingual release in the US.

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this film in its English language adaptation. Having listened to the Japanese track many times before and having rather enjoyed the previous English dub that was done, I was very curious to hear how the new stereo mix would turn out with the new cast for it. The mix is pretty solid throughout and just like the original Japanese track where it's very much a dialogue piece with only a few areas where the audio really uses the stereo channels in any meaningful way. My only real disappointment with the audio on this release is that they didn't/couldn't include the previous dub. In listening to both tracks, we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Video:
Originally released to theaters back in 1988, the film is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. It's something that we seem to say with each new release but the transfer here look very much like what we got with the Japanese release and Totoro for the most part looks fantastic. But as it is from 1988 and one of the older ones it does show a bit more wear in it with some noticeable film grain that gives it a bit more of a rough feel and looks less pristine than some of the other recent releases. This actually works in its favor in my mind as you get the clothes that don't look like they're so new and shiny they just came off the rack but rather a bit more worn and natural. The print does look good overall and the damage appears to be minimal as there were only a few noticeable bits of dirt and scratches. This may not be the smooth ultra clean show that we've seen in other releases but the transfer here reminds me heavily of what's come before both in home video and theatrical showings.

Packaging:
Thankfully not as cartoonish as the Fox release a few years ago, the cover art for this release is in the more traditional vein with a lovely shot of the two girls and Totoro and company sitting on a branch fishing over a pond. It's filled with beautiful greens and blues that help to give it a very laid back and relaxed feeling based on the setting and the nature of the relationships that it shows. The non-character artwork is wonderfully detailed which looks great against the very simple designs of Totoro and the others. The back cover is much darker as it uses the entire piece to provide a shot of the Catbus at night coming over a house to pick up the girls along the right. The rest is given over to the standard layout of the summary of the film's premise and a clean listing of what to expect in terms of features and extras on the release. The insert uses the front cover art on one side by itself while the back side uses the back cover artwork along with the chapter listings.

Menu:
The menus are nicely done with the main piece having a clip of animation showing Totoro swooping down from the trees in an early evening sequence and then following onto other scenes as some of the relaxing instrumental music plays along. Selections, set along the top with an umbrella for a cursor, are the Disney standards and provide quick and easy access to everything on the disc. The layout is simple but straightforward and it works well. The disc did correctly read our players' language presets and played accordingly which is fairly standard for Disney releases.

Extras:
The extras for this release pretty similar to what we got on the Japanese side as well as what we see on most of the US releases. My favorite continues to be the Behind the Microphone piece which shows the US voice actors going through their work and talking about their experiences with Ghibli, often for the first time, as well as voice acting in general. This one has some good bits showing Dakota Fanning and her younger sister Elle working as the girls and I was glad to see Tim Daly as enthusiastic as he is about it. It's always interesting to see very mainstream people talking about Ghibli material. In addition to this feature, there's the inclusion of the original opening and ending sequences in Japanese without credits and the original theatrical trailer for the film. The second disc contains the other big extra of the film in storyboard mode.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
One of the earliest Ghibli films I had seen, it's release in the US has been long overdo and mostly tied to the problem of it having been licensed before and waiting for that to run out before it could be tackled. In a way, this is both good and bad in that we don't get quite the top tier talents that made up some of the earlier dubs but we do get a very refined production that knows all the tricks needed to make a Ghibli movie work.

The film, something that Miyazaki had in mind as early as Panda! Go Panda!, is in a lot of ways very similar to Kiki's Delivery Service in that it's very much a slice of life kind of story with some fantastic elements mixed into it. There isn't any real major plot to be had here but more just the kind of storyline where you follow the adventures of these kids and it leads you through a number of key moments in their young lives. Most of Miyazaki's films have some element of wonder and innocence to them but My Neighbor Totoro is the one that is almost purely all about that. It's something that gives it a much more laid back and slower pace but it draws you in and really just makes you all warm and snuggly about it.

The show is focused around a young family who is moving to the country to an old house that's not been used for some time. The family has gone through some problems, mostly in that the mother has been hospitalized for some time and cannot come home, so the father and two girls do their best and visit her as much as possible. The father, a professor at a nearby university, is very much hands on with his children and does plenty with them around the house but once they're settled he spends time away as well. This gives the kids time to explore and make new friends with others around there, including the neighbors next door such as Granny and her cautious grandson. Most of the film revolves around the two girls though. Satsuki is the older sister who is in school and has tried to take on the role of being a mom for the family while younger Mei is very much enjoying her childhood and just lives to play.

The lives of the young girls takes on an interesting change when Mei is out playing and she comes across a tiny creature that can become invisible walking along the yard. She follows it as it tries to escape and she ends up deep in the forest surrounding the massive tree that is the basis of the area only to discover a family of these creatures of different sizes, including one massive one she calls Totoro. Nobody believes her when they find her later on asleep in the woods but eventually Satsuki is able to see him as he becomes more involved in the area and there is a very quick friendship that's struck between them, one that has little to no real words. Totoro and the girls have some brief adventures, do a bit of magic with some tree growing and take a trip across the beautiful countryside in the very creative Catbus. It's not meant to have any real over reaching elements to it but rather to just show how close they've become over time.

Along the way there are issues with the girls' mother at the hospital and some drama as well which has this film feeling very much like Kiki's Delivery Service in a lot of ways. You get a great amount of the show that’s laid back and whimsical and then all of a sudden it rushes into a bit of drama before simply ending. So much of this film is just about the magic of the forest spirits and what they and the girls do together that any sort of real world element that's brought in to provide the drama is going to feel somewhat out of place. Even though it does that, so much of the film is just pure magic and highly entertaining that it's easy to forgive such things. There are scenes that will be in my mind forever from this film, such as the two girls waiting in the rain for their father to come home and Totoro experiencing it with them. It's the quiet beauty of the film that really shines here.

The English language adaptation is quite good and even though I was unsure of having yet another Dakota Fanning performance as it's felt like she's been in a ton of shows I've seen recently, she managed to fit the role of Satsuki just right. The added bonus of her own younger sister doing the voice work for Mei just added all the more that it needed to be believable as the two of them together have the right kind of synergy to pull it off. It didn't feel forced and it's easy to imagine the girls were just pretending to be someone else and playing along. I was also really glad to see Pat Carroll get her feet into the Ghibli realm as well with the role of the grandmother. She kept that to the right tone without being too "eh!" with her inflections. The same goes for Tim Daly who is sort of kept to really minimal use throughout a lot of this in the role of the father but he gets some good scenes towards the end where he's a bit more frantic and it's a good evolution from his laid back manner early on to that.

In Summary:
My Neighbor Totoro is one of those classics that never seems to get old with age. I've seen it so many times now in so many different forms but each time it still contains some of the magic to it that keeps it alive and pleasurable to watch. Disney's presentation of it here does a fantastic job all around and it reminds me again that if any company has to handle theatrical anime, I'd certainly give them more than the benefit of the doubt to doing it right. While they've had contractual reasons for doing it as they've done, I'd like to think that the continual praise for their releases and what they've done has certainly made them see the benefits of doing it right and accurate. MY Neighbor Totoro is a very welcome re-addition to my library and one that has far wider appeal now due to a very solid set of dub performances to it.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Behind the Microphone,Clean Opening,Clean Closing,Original Storyboards

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI set to 480p, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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