My Neighbor Totoro
It has been many years since I last watched My Neighbor Totoro. Suffering a similar fate to Puff the Magic Dragon, my aging children merely put it on the shelf one day and forgot to pull it back out again. Grander and more mature cinema adventures beckoned...
Then one day, a copy of the new 2 Disc edition showed up in my mailbox. Feeling somewhat sentimental, I put the DVD into my player--and before the opening credits had finished, the sound of their accompanying music had summoned all my family members. With a chorus of "I remember this," they settled around the TV to watch the familiar tale unfold.
Using the incredible art form of Japanese anime, the movie opens with two young sisters peeking out of a moving truck as it heads toward their new home. Relocating to be closer to their hospitalized mother, the girls can hardly wait to explore the rural residence and its surrounding woods and rice patties. Soon they discover the place is full of soot sprites (little, black, fluffy blobs with blinking eyes) and some other amazing critters called Totoros. Invisible to adults, but very real to children, these fuzzy bunny-like "forest spirits" create a wealth of possibilities for fun and friendship.
Told through the eyes of these youngsters, the world is a wondrous place where the biggest worries are windstorms, forgetting one's umbrella, and making-strange with the babysitter. There are no bad-guys--only the uncertainties associated with an ill parent. While the story builds sympathy for their fears, it never becomes too scary for even the youngest of audiences. The mythical Totoros are also believable, as these warm and wonderful creatures accurately represent what many children would desire in an imaginary companion.
The viewing experience was even more enchanting this time because the audio track has been redone, and now features a better script where less is lost in translation. Real-life sisters, Elle and Dakota Fanning, have provided the voice talents. Their excitement about working with each other comes right through the microphone and infects the project with an almost tangible charm.
But the real magic, which has delighted audiences since My Neighbor Totoro's debut in 1988, is how accurately this animated film captures the essence of childhood--simply by illustrating believable situations and expressions. Not dimming with age, I found myself smiling as the amazing production once again held my now-teenaged kids spellbound.