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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that My Neighbor Totoro is a fine pick for the entire family. Although there are slightly creepy "dust sprites" that appear in the house at first, they eventually disappear. Totoro himself might look and sound a bit odd, but he's quite sweet and gentle. The protagonist girls have an ill mother with an unnamed disease, but the moments in the hospital aren't sad or depressing. Some parents may not feel comfortable with the amount of freedom the girls (as is the case with children in all of Hayao Miyazaki's films) have to wander off alone, either around their neighborhood, the surrounding forest, or on a long walk to visit their mother. Overall, this is a family film in the truest sense -- it appeals to moviegoers young and old alike.
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What's the story?
In MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO, it's 1958 Japan, and 10-year-old Satsuki (voiced by Dakota Fanning for the English-dubbed version), 4-year-old Mei (Elle Fanning), and their father (Tim Daly) move to the countryside where their mother is hospitalized with a long-term illness. As they get settled into their new home, the girls discover there are magical creatures, like dust sprites, that inhabit their house and neighborhood. One day, Mei sees two little rabbit-like creatures and follows them through their forest, where she meets a much larger version of the creature, whom she calls "Totoro." Eventually Satsuki also meets Totoro, who also introduces the girls to a magical soaring cat-bus. Totoro, who is "keeper of the forest," aids Satsuki and her father when Mei decides to walk to the hospital alone to present her mother with a fresh ear of corn.
Is it any good?
For fans of Miyazaki's later work who haven't had the chance to check out his classics, this is a perfect movie to start. My Neighbor Totoro is considered Miyazaki's breakthrough film. Re-released and dubbed in English for a wider audience by Disney, the movie introduced Americans unfamiliar with anime to Miyazaki's signature themes: strong, independent girls as protagonists; whimsical creatures; an imaginative story; and a focus on how families interact with each other and their surrounding environment.
This isn't a spellbinding all-out adventure like Spirited Away or even the gentler journey that is Ponyo, but its leisurely paced story and lushly detailed visuals are part of the charm. Unlike the majority of animated movies, this isn't full of pop-culture or consumerist references that, while funny when handled correctly, can also bog down animated films or zap them of their childlike fantasy. Satsuki and Mei need Totoro to help them through a difficult time in their lives -- new home, sick mother -- and it's quite lovely to see the sweet little moments that cement their friendship. It's a shame more family movies aren't as simple and beautiful as My Neighbor Totoro.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why Mei and Satsuki aren't afraid of Totoro in My Neighbor Totoro. Why do you think they're able to befriend him so easily? How does he help them and their family?
How do the girls deal with their mother's sickness? Does her hospitalization affect the sisters differently?
What is the movie's animation style like? How are the humans depicted? Are the Totoros and the Catbus scary-looking? What makes it obvious they're gentle?
Why do you think this movie is considered an anime classic? How is it different from the majority of Hollywood animated movies?
- In theaters: June 14, 1988
- On DVD or streaming: May 21, 2013
- Cast: Dakota Fanning, Elle Fanning, Patrick Carroll
- Director: Hayao Miyazaki
- Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy
- Character strengths: Compassion, Courage, Curiosity
- Run time: 86 minutes
- MPAA rating: G
- Last updated: January 8, 2021
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