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My Neighbor Totoro Anime DVD/BD Review

5 min read

Ghibli’s timeless classic about two girls and a gentle forest spirit.

What They Say:
When Satsuki and her sister Mei move with their father to a new home in the countryside, they find country life is not as simple as it seems. They soon discover that the house and nearby woods are full of strange and delightful creatures, including a gigantic but gentle forest spirit called Totoro, who can only be seen by children. Totoro and his friends introduce the girls to a series of adventures, including a ride aboard the extraordinary Cat Bus, in this all-ages animated masterpiece featuring the voices of Tim Daly, Lea Salonga, and real-life sisters Dakota and Elle Fanning, in one of their earliest roles.

The Review:
Both the DVD and Blu-ray present the audio in English, French, and original Japanese in stereo.

Dialogue is clean and clear throughout for the original Japanese and the English dub. For anyone familiar with the Fox dub from the early 1990s, the Gkids version makes the Japan cultural references slightly easier to understand. Background music is comprised of various instrument and voice combinations, but only the opening and closing songs have actual lyrics (available in both English and original Japanese).

The Blu-ray presents the video in 1080p High-Definition Widescreen (1.85:1), and the DVD presents it in Anamorphic Widescreen (1.85:1). Subtitles are available in English and French. Because the movie was produced in 1988, there not much difference between DVD and Blu-ray video quality.

The menu is fairly simple. It has the same bus stop illustration as the case cover and no animation or music. Submenus appear as a pop-up when the appropriate option is selected.

The two discs come in a standard Blu-ray case packaged in a matching cardboard sleeve. It also includes a little bonus booklet with illustrations and notes from the director and producer. Each disc is printed with a different scene from the film. Scenes from the film also decorate the case, and there’s a two-panel spread of a landscape from the film on the reverse side as well.

Extras include exclusive booklet, feature-length storyboards, behind the microphone, creating My Neighbor Totoro, creating the characters, the “Totoro” experience, Producer’s Perspective: Creating Ghibli, the locations of My Neighbor Totoro, textless credits, and the original theatrical trailers. Several of these extras are subtitled excerpts of Japanese documentaries, and if you are a big Miyazaki or Ghibli Studio fan, you might want to pick up the Blu-ray/DVD set for this bonus material alone.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Last month I had a holiday gathering with some old classmates. Their elementary school age kids came with them and started running riot in my non-childproofed house. In desperation, I grabbed my review copy of My Neighbor Totoro and put it in the DVD player. Within moments the kids settled down, and for the next 90 minutes, we adults were able to converse in peace.

So even after thirty years, My Neighbor Totoro hasn’t lost its ability to enchant children.

Unlike many American animated children’s films, My Neighbor Totoro has no flashy musical numbers, no talking sidekick animals, and no ridiculously goofy characters. The pace is slow, and commonplace rural scenes and activities take up much of the screen time. Yet the film sings with the beauty of nature, and it’s through the awesomeness of Japan’s forests and waters that Director Miyazaki channels the mysterious, magical quality of the totoros.

The main characters are sisters Satsuki (11) and Mei (4). They’ve moved with their father to a rickety old house in the countryside while their mother recuperates in a hospital some distance away. The two girls are thrilled with their new home, but as they explore it and the surrounding woods they soon discover the extraordinary but shy totoros, gentle forest spirits that can only be seen by children.

When a film includes magic or fantastical elements, often those elements overwhelm the narrative (think Sailor Moon or Harry Potter). However, My Neighbor Totoro has no glittery magical girls or flashy spells. The sisters encounter the totoros in the backyard and bus stop—ordinary, familiar places—and though each meeting stirs a sense of awe for their forest surroundings and its mysterious inhabitants, the children don’t become agents of that wonder themselves, nor do the totoros hijack their lives. For the most part, girls are living a normal life, adjusting to a new place where every now and then they brush up against something special.

And the encounters are quite fun. There’s a lot of child squealing/screaming, which kids probably appreciate. The furry totoros look like cute plushies (probably why totoro toys are popular even today), and their expressions are quite engaging. One of my favorite scenes is when Satsuki loans the big totoro an umbrella and he goes from curious to absolutely thrilled with it.

The movie also has its share of drama with the uncertain health of the girls’ mother. Although it’s not the stuff of epics, any child can understand the fear of losing a parent. And when Mei gets lost trying to visit their mother’s hospital, audiences will definitely relate to Satsuki’s desperation to find her. While the totoros play their part in the drama’s resolution, it’s the human concerns and emotions that give the film its “heart” and make My Neighbor Totoro a compelling story even decades after its release.

 In Summary:
My Neighbor Totoro is widely regarded a classic and rightfully so. Yes, it’s not exactly a fate-of the-world-depends-on-it roller coaster ride, but it has its own unexpected and charming surprises. Plus, the totoros—in addition to being adorably cute—brim with personality even though they can’t really talk.

Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Feature-Length Storyboards, Original Theatrical Trailers, Behind the Microphone, Textless Opening and End Credits, Creating My Neighbor Totoro, Creating the Characters, The “Totoro” Experience, The Locations of My Neighbor Totoro, Producer’s Perspective: Creating Ghibli, 8-page Booklet, producer’s and director’s statements

Content Grade: A+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: A-
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: A+

Released By: GKIDS
Release Date: October 17th, 2017
MSRP: $19.95
Running Time: 88 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDL-V40XBR1 40″ LCD 1080P HDTV, Sony BDP-S3700 Blu-ray/DVD player

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