Miyazaki has done some fine work in his time. Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Ponyo are widely known as his best films. My Neighbour Totoro is also pretty highly rated. Praised by anime fans and film critics alike, I was expecting a new Nausicaa. What I got was a similar experience to Laputa. It is a better film than that, and it certainly is good, it’s just not really classic-worthy.
My Neighbour Totoro revolves around two little girls, Satsuke (Dakota Fanning) and her younger sister Mei (Elle Fanning), who move into the country to be closer to their hospitalized mother. Soon, however, they discover that the local forest is inhabited my magical creatures called Totoros. They befriend these creatures and start to form a strong bond with them and the forest.
I have a big problem with this film. The pacing. It may sound like a nit-pick, but it really did affect my enjoyment of the film. The way the scenes play off each other is just odd. One will last a very long time and show what is happening in great detail, and the next will go by so fast you wonder what the heck just happened. It’s Miyazaki’s most ‘kiddie’ film so far, although don’t get me wrong, that is not a bad thing. The trouble is, is that it’s called My Neighbour Totoro, yet Totoro is hardly mentioned or seen until the last half an hour.
The film is very short at only 82 minutes, but it does tend to drag in the first and second act. And it only does that because in the last 20 minutes or so we get this snowstorm of stuff happening that, after the ultra-low-key-feel of the first hour, is difficult to understand and take in.
With all that said, the film is still good. The animation is very nice, although still not as good as Laputa or Nausicaa. The character designs are charming and unique, and you actually feel for them and what they’re going through. They’re not just cardboard cut-outs. The music, done, once again, by long-time Miyazki collaborator Joe Hisaishi, is excellent as usual.
Overall, My Neighbour Totoro could have benefited if one thing was removed. The Totoros! In the same way Ponyo had a kind of unnecessary sub-plot about the end of the world, the Totoros were pointless. Why not just make a film about two little girls dealing with their hospitalized mother while also trying to adjust to a new area. That would’ve been great! Because when you get right down to it, this is an extremely un-western film.
The western way is having action all the time. Stuff has to happen every scene. This film is not based on conflict, rather discovery. And that is great. I really want to see a Miyazaki film around the discovery aspect, just without the fantasy stuff.