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Fox Home Entertainment presents
My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

"We saw Totoro! We saw Totoro!"
- Satzuki (Lisa Michaelson) and Mei (Cheryl Chase)

Review By: Dan Lopez  
Published: December 04, 2002

Stars: Lisa Michaelson, Cheryl Chase
Other Stars: Greg Snegoff, Kenneth Hartman
Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Manufacturer: DVCC
MPAA Rating: G for (some mild nudity)
Run Time: 01h:17m:45s
Release Date: December 03, 2002
UPC: 024543061663
Genre: animation

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A AB-C+ D-

DVD Review

American children's films tend to be big, garish, elaborate events usually designed to function, at least in part, as self-contained marketing campaigns for toys and other merchandise. Although placed in the domain of being a children's film, My Neighbor Totoro is very much outside of that phenomenon and is a refreshing change of pace from the usual type of kids entertainment audiences have come to expect. It is a movie about fantasy that keeps itself grounded very firmly in the reality of exploring everyday life as a child. It's also yet another notch in the masterpiece sceptre of Japanese director/writer/animator Hayao Miyazaki.

Here is the story, set in the 1950s, of Mei and Satsuki: two young sisters who, along with their father, move into a small, rundown house in a rural, farming community somewhere in Japan. The move is partly because of Mei and Satsuki's mother's illness and since she must stay in the hospital, they want to be closer to her. Immediately upon moving in, the sisters let their imaginations run wild, thinking that the house is not only haunted, but also filled with strange little pixies and, of course, dust bunnies. In fact, their first quest is to find and capture a dust bunny. As is obvious from the beginning, these sisters and their father celebrate in the supernatural, the mysterious, and the fantastical things that most people don't believe in. Every dark corner or interesting flower is a treasure trove of joy for the girls, and the story greatly concerns their little explorations of the world around them.

Once they've gotten comfortable in their new house, the family starts to make a good life for themselves, but one day Mei sees a strange little rabbit-like creature roaming about the yard. She pursues the little being into the forest only to come across a gigantic, hollow tree inside which lurks...Totoro. Totoro (which is actually a purposeful mispronunciation of the Japanese term for 'troll', since Mei is so young) is a giant bunny-esque monster who doesn't speak, but yet, Mei understands perfectly who and what he is. Eventually Satsuki believes in Totoro as well, and his spirit is assumed to be the protector of the surrounding woods. While the sisters live their lives going to school, farming the land, doing their chores, and hoping for the recovery of their mother, the influence of the strange Totoro and his two little companions is heavily felt in their dreams and most heartfelt fantasies. Is he real? Of course!

'Magical' is a term almost inadequate to describe this incredible family film; one of the finest in existence. Unlike many children's movies, it really doesn't have a plot, so-to-speak. It's simply about these two charming and imaginative girls and how they see enchantment in everything from a drop of rain to a handful of acorns. Their little adventures with Totoro, while fantastical, are not the only thing in which they see the mystical. The film brilliantly resurrects the charm of being a child and having an epic adventure by simply stepping out into the woods or being far away from your house for the first time. In a clever and inspiring move, these children are not the only people effected by the magic of Totoro. Although adults seem unable to see him or any of the other strange beings around the forest, they are not isolated in the story as 'bad' or too stiff to understand the kids. Instead, Mei and Satsuki's parents are very supportive of their visions and fantasies, and encourage a respect for the spirits of the world, whoever they may be. There are no villains and no conveniently wrapped moral messages; just a sweet and subtle tale of how a family is kept strong together by their acceptance of those things which cannot be easily explained. In the end, My Neighbor Totoro is an absolutely heartwarming and endearing little film that doesn't accomplish its successes by being simple, stupid, or sappy. It's just a cute, effective tale that has a very good lesson behind it: Keep your mind and eyes open, and you just might meet a Totoro on a dark night, too.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Rationo

Image Transfer Review: Sadly, this edition of Totoro is not properly widescreened to 1:85:1 (although the opening and closing credits are), which is disappointing. That aside, the full-frame transfer is actually pretty good for hand drawn cel work. There are no significant artifacts or pixelization, and the source print is very clean and crisp. It is a solid image, it's just too bad that 20th Century Fox decided to not include the option to view an anamorphically widescreened version.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: In addition to no widescreen option, the disc lacks the original Japanese dialogue option, which is pretty disappointing. However, unlike the other Miyazaki films dubbed and localized by Carl Macek productions, this one has a very good dub. The stereo audio is pretty much taken up with dialogue and a few sound effects here and there; nothing too elaborate. The musical score and occasional "heavier" moments are well rendered, but overall, the audio is serviceable and nothing more.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Given the special treatment some of Miyazaki's films have gotten on Region 1 DVD, this particular disc's complete barebones treatment is a bit annoying. Bad enough it's not widescreened or in Japanese, but there's not a single supplement, unless you count some static ads for other Fox kids titles. On the upside, this particular localization of Totoro is uncut without any removed scenes or dialogue. Although some of the Japanese subtleties are lost (especially Mei's purposefully clumsy dialogue), the disc isn't too offensive in that respect.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

Since Disney now controls all of Hayao Miyazaki's films in North America, Fox was likely not given access to any new materials with which to either remaster the film or add any considerable supplements. Instead, they had to make do with the original localized version they obtained the rights to in the 1990s. This bare-bones edition is certainly not going to make your DVD collection sing, but since it's the only legitimate Region 1 disc of Totoro, fans of smart, charming, and clever children's films owe it to themselves to see this absorbing and brilliant tribute to the kid inside all of us. This is a classic, by any definition.


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