Cinema Mishmash

A personal and random look at movies, past and present

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My Neighbor Totoro

October 8th, 2006 · No Comments

Animated family films are generally not high on my list of entertainment priorities. I do, however, have a fond regard for the Disney classics of my youth. (The best of which is 101 Dalmatians, by the way.) With a few notable exceptions, though, I find that recent animated features from U.S. studios are lazy in narrative, uninspired in thematic content, and devoid of memorable characters. The pervasive notion seems to be that children will watch anything if the colors are bright enough and the soundtrack is catchy.

Mary Poppins before Slimfast.In almost complete contrast, each film I explore from Hayao Miyazaki’s back catalog is so refreshingly creative, so multi-layered, and so brilliantly detailed that his films seem worthy of a their own category. My Neighbor Totoro, originally released in 1988, is among the Miyazaki films Disney has re-released in the last two years with new English dubs, this one featuring the creepily talented Dakota Fanning and her younger sister, Elle. The story involves the imaginative world of two sisters dealing with their prolonged separation from their hospitalized mother. They meet the stoic wood spirit Totoro, a character defined by contrasts (ferocity and cuddliness, vacuity and profundity, apathy and sympathy) whose relationship to the story is simultaneously essential and extraneous. Unlike any Western animated feature film of the last decade, if I had to watch this movie over and over again (and parents with young kids know what I’m talking about) I don’t think I would tire of Totoro (although the theme music – in either language – might eventually wreck my head).We really shouldn't have had that last beer.

Tags: Animation · Family

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