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My Neighbor Totoro DVD Review (2010 Edition)

In May 2013, My Neighbor Totoro was reissued as a Blu-ray + DVD combo pack.
Click here for our review of that edition.

My Neighbor Totoro: 2010 DVD cover art - click to buy from Amazon.com My Neighbor Totoro (Tonari no Totoro)

Japanese Theatrical Release: April 16, 1988 / US Theatrical Release: May 7, 1993 / Running Time: 88 Minutes / Rating: G

Writer/Director: Hayao Miyazaki

English Voice Cast: Dakota Fanning (Satsuki), Elle Fanning (Mei), Tim Daly (Father), Pat Carroll (Granny), Lea Salonga (Mother), Frank Welker (Totoro, Catbus), Paul Butcher (Kanta), Matt Adler, Newell Alexander, David Midthunder, J.P. Manoux

Japanese Voice Cast: Noriko Hidaka (Satsuki), Chika Sakamoto (Mei), Shigesato Itoi (Tatsuo Kusakabe), Sumi Shimamoto (Yasuko Kusakabe), Tanie Kitabayashi (Kanta no obâsan), Hitoshi Takagi (Totoro), Yűko Maruyama (Kanta no okâsan), Machiko Washio (Teacher), Reiko Suzuki (Furoi on'na no hito), Masashi Hirose (Kanta no otôsan), Toshiyuki Amagasa (Kanta), Shigeru Chiba (Kusakari-Otoko)

1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen / Dolby Stereo 2.0 (English, Japanese, French)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, English translation, French; Extras Subtitled and Captioned
DVD Release Date: March 2, 2010 / Suggested Retail Price: $29.99
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (DVD-9s) / Black Keepcase in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover

Buy from Amazon.comBuy 2006 DVD from Amazon.comBuy 2002 DVD from Amazon.com

By Kelvin Cedeno

My Neighbor Totoro is a strikingly different sort of animated film. It's neither a musical nor an ironic comedy. There are no hip pop culture references, and even though animals are prominently featured, they do not speak. It is driven less by plot than character and, taken with the other qualities, that adds up to a refreshingly understated experience.

As with other features from director Hayao Miyazaki, My Neighbor Totoro centers on children, two to be exact. Satsuki and her younger sister Mei move from the city to the Japanese countryside with their father. Usually children tend to dread moving (the heroine of Miyazaki's own Spirited Away being a prime example), but the girls of this story take to their new home immediately.
Things take a turn for the bizarre, though, when Mei follows two little creatures into the forest. She finds herself in a large glen inhabited by a large, furry creature resembling the two she followed. Despite his intimidating size, the animal (whom she names Totoro) has little interest in her or anything else around him.

When Mei later tells of this encounter to her sister and father, she's met with two different reactions. Satsuki is skeptical, but their father believes that Mei met spirits who protect the forest. From then on, Mei can't stop thinking of Totoro, and she attempts to find her way back to the glen, only to find it gone. Satsuki's skepticism at all this doesn't last very long, for she herself ends up meeting Totoro at one point. Eventually he warms up to the two sisters and helps them plant seeds outside their home. When the girls' hospitalized mother suffers further complications from her unspecified illness, Mei takes it upon herself to deliver some of the food they've grown in hope of a recovery. This sparks a town-wide search for the girl, one that requires the help of Totoro, his two companions, and the curious catbus they use for transportation.

Satsuki, Mei, and their father take a leisurely bicycle ride for a look at their new surroundings. Not knowing who else to turn to, Satsuki comes to Totoro for help in finding her sister, and the forest keeper lets out a rare piece of emotion towards her.

What most stands out about Totoro is how tranquil it is. For decades, American animated movies have thrived on hyperactivity and constant gags, so it almost becomes a shock to see such leisurely pacing. It's a ponderous film that unfolds in a manner accurately reflecting real life.
That probably sounds peculiar since this is a children's fantasy, but the fantastical elements are actually downplayed and only become prominent in three short scenes. In between, the scenes of Satsuki and Mei exploring their new home and interacting with each other are given time to breathe and play out naturally. It helps that the film isn't bogged down by any excessive plotting, so that character moments aren't mere interludes between big set pieces.

Totoro often plays against expectations. There are no government officials seeking to track down Totoro and his friends, the girls don't bother to keep his existence a secret, and there are no fantastical universes that the group travels to. Everything takes place in the real world, right in their new hometown. Totoro himself doesn't fit any sort of archetypal character mold. He isn't kooky or outrageous, and he doesn't even get to know the girls that well in the long run. In fact, it's impressive to think of how little screen time he actually claims. Our impression of him mostly stems from how Satsuki and Mei react to him, and his innocent, minimal responses to their awe is enough to charm the viewer.

Disney's English dub for the film feels appropriate in keeping with the spirit of the characters. The two Fanning sisters, Dakota and Elle, play Satsuki and Mei, respectively. Their vocal performances ring true and honest, probably because both parts are treated as realistic little girls to begin with. Miyazaki ensured that the two characters don't come across as phony, manufactured children, and it's a relief that Disney wasn't tempted to go that route vocally. Because the scale of Totoro is so intimate, the rest of the roles are quite minimal. Regardless, Tim Daly, Lea Salonga, and Pat Carroll all do fine in their roles. Frank Welker as the title character does a good job making Totoro's few sound effects animated enough to become endearing.

This 2010 Special Edition marks the third DVD release for My Neighbor Totoro. Fox released a pan-and-scan disc back in 2002 featuring Streamline Pictures' English dub (released to US theaters in 1993 by Troma). When Fox's distribution rights expired in 2004, Disney was able to add the film to the rest of their acquired library of Studio Ghibli films. A new dub was created and released early in 2006 as part of a red-banner collection. Now Disney is re-releasing the Ghibli movies with blue banner sets holding more supplements. While promotional materials call these special editions, the packaging only quietly labels them that on the back cover.

Totoro takes the girls on an exhilarating flight over the Japanese countryside, letting out a powerful roar. We never find out what illness the girls' mother has, but she puts on a brave face for them when they come visit her at the hospital.


My Neighbor Totoro comes to DVD in an anamorphic 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Those who own the previous DVD won't find a difference in quality as both are identical. That isn't a complaint, though, since the 2006 disc looked decent. Sharpness is reasonably clear, and the color scheme is appropriately bright and cheery. There's a bit of flickering throughout the image and some light grain, but neither of these cause a distraction. It's a solid transfer overall.

Likewise, the Dolby Stereo 2.0 track is a carry-over from the previous release. Out of all the elements, Hisaishi's score is what resonates the most given the limitations, sounding fairly rich. Dialogue remains heavily centered and is quite clear. Sound effects are surprisingly low-key, but Totoro's signature roar does give the track some scope. The Japanese 2.0 track, unfortunately, isn't as impressive. The sound is noticeablly lower and more muffled than the English track. It's a shame Disney couldn't have used the remastered music and effects track from their dub and create a new Japanese mix for this release.

The girls, Totoro, and the other spirit creatures rejoice as their seeds grow into a massive tree in this Disc 2 storyboard. As we view some promotional artwork, Miyazaki tells of where he came up with the name "Totoro" in "Creating the Characters." "The Totoro Experience" features director Hayao Miyazaki reflecting back on the film's initial reception and how it's perceived today.


All of the disc's supplements are found on Disc Two. The first listing is for "Original Japanese Storyboards", a now-expected staple of Studio Ghibli DVDs. The entire film is presented in storyboard format with the final audio mix (either in English or Japanese, the viewer's choice).
While few people will actually sit through the entire presentation, it's an excellent inclusion for the sake of completion. It was originally seen on the previous DVD release.

The other listing on the disc's menu is "The World of Ghibli", which divides into two subsections. The first of these, Behind the Studio makes up the bulk of the new supplements. All of these are taken from the same interview sessions, which raises the question of why they simply weren't combined into a single documentary.

The section starts with "Creating My Neighbor Totoro" (2:58). Miyazaki explains where he was in his life when thinking up Totoro and how he wanted it to stand out from the action-packed, boy-centric animation of the time. "Creating the Characters" (4:24) looks at how Totoro and his two companions came about, how Satsuki was originally going to be an only child, and the influences for the cat bus. "The Totoro Experience" (2:00) reveals how, despite the film doing poorly in theaters, it became a cultural phenomenon thanks to its television airings. "Producer's Perspective: Creating Ghibli" (1:24) takes a look at how Miyazaki's mispronunciation of a pre-existing word led to the unique name of his animation studio.

In "The Locations of Totoro", actress Mayu Tsuruta surveys a shrine that's nearly identical to the one featured in the film. A worn out, tape-sourced trailer shows the film's original Japanese title set over the iconic scene of Satsuki and Totoro meeting in the rain. Dakota Fanning carries younger sister Elle around the studio and "Behind the Microphone."

"The Locations of Totoro" (28:36) is an excerpt from the 2006 Japanese TV special "The Scenery in Ghibli". Actress Mayu Tsuruta takes a tour of the Kanto Plain, the area which directly inspired the story's settings. The flora and fauna of the area are explored as well as daily lives of the local villagers. There's even a visit to the house that inspired Satsuki and Mei's, and we learn of the preservation efforts that went into it. It's quite impressive how the film was able to convey all of these locales so accurately.

Going back to the created-for-DVD featurettes, we end with "Scoring Miyazaki" (7:19). Here, composer Joe Hisaishi says a few words about Castle in the Sky, My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki's Delivery Service, and Ponyo, shedding some light on the musical styles he sought and how they were influenced. One can only assume that a future version of this will tackle Hisaishi's other scores such as Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle on the inevitable re-releases of those titles.

Ported over from the previous DVD are the "Original Japanese Trailer" (2:00) and "Behind the Microphone" (5:38). The latter features interviews with the voice cast of Disney's English dub. Not a great deal is truly divulged, but there's some nice footage of the actors recording their lines to match the finished animation.

Miyazaki tells of the trips made to the European seaside towns that inspired Kiki's new home in "Creating Kiki's Delivery Service." Sosuke, Ponyo, and the various items around them are clickable icons that lead to either film clips or animation in the Ponyo section of "Enter the Lands." Mei dominates both the background art and the rotating film clips on the main menu for both discs.

The final "Behind the Studio" features are actually taken from the three other Ghibli releases that street with this one: "Creating Ponyo" (3:57), "Creating Kiki's Delivery Service (2:27), and "Castle in the Sky: Character Sketches" (2:40).
The details of these are best left to their respective reviews. While their inclusion is undoubtedly done as a means of cross promotion, they're nice to have.

Speaking of cross promotion, the disc's final heading is Enter the Lands. This offers an interactive map representing all the different settings from the studio's library. Each setting contains clickable characters and objects that lead to narrated film clips and montages. As of now, the only worlds open are for the March 2010 titles (Castle in the Sky, Totoro, Kiki's, and Ponyo), but it's obvious that the plan is for more worlds to be unlocked as more re-releases come.

Since this section is meant for promotional purposes, when one accesses the land for the feature film (in this case, Totoro), the clips are replaced with a simple, five-question personality quiz. This reviewer's result was that of the elder sister Satsuki. The quiz is standard fare, but the interactive map is a diverting way to sample other Miyazaki features. One can't help but like something that unifies the Studio Ghibli roster in a manner similar to Disney's own animated classics.

It's worth mentioning that there's one supplement from the 2006 DVD that didn't make it onto this one: the opening and closing credits animation. That DVD presented them on their own without any credits overlapping them. The loss doesn't seem like a major one, especially since the animation is carefully framed so as not to be greatly obscured by the text.

Disc One opens with trailers for Beauty and the Beast: Diamond Edition, Toy Story 3, and new Studio Ghibli DVDs (including this one). These are joined on the disc's Sneak Peeks menu by ads for the Toy Story and Toy Story 2 Blu-rays, The Princess and the Frog, Ponyo, Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue, the Disney Friends for Change project, genuine DVDs, Disney Movie Rewards, and Disney Blu-ray.

The menu interface matches that of the other March 2 Ghibli releases, with the main menu rotating through stills against a watercolor background of Mei. The submenus continue the watercolor motif, featuring a caricature of Miyazaki surrounded by his creations for the Behind the Studio menu.

Both discs come housed in a standard black Amaray case. The cover is rather peculiar in that it combines Satsuki and Mei into one composite character. (The image derives from concept art predating Miyazaki's decision to have two girls instead of one.) The cardboard slipcover replicates this art and features some minor embossment and shine. Inside the case are a miniature litho of the cover art and a pamphlet for Disney Blu-ray discs.

Mei and Satsuki cautiously peer into their new home, wary of any potential spirits that may be lurking about. Mei explains to Satsuki her mission of delivering the ear of corn to their mother as the catbus looks on.


My Neighbor Totoro may try the patience of viewers accustomed to rapid-fire deliveries and frequent action, but it's sure to delight those willing to give it a chance. It's less complicated than some of Miyazaki's other work and as such, it appeals to a broader audience. In comparison with Disney's previous DVD release, the image and sound are identical, and the new supplements are winning. Owners of the previous release are encouraged to upgrade if they enjoy bonus material, otherwise they should be fine with the edition they have. For first-time buyers, though, this new set is heartily recommended.

More on the DVD / Buy from Amazon.com / Buy the 2006 Disney DVD / Buy the 2002 Fox DVD

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The English Voice Cast of My Neighbor Totoro:
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Reviewed March 9, 2010.