(The Disneycember logo is shown, before showing clips from My Neighbor Totoro)
Doug (vo): It's the iconic My Neighbor Totoro, a character so famous that he's actually the icon for Studio Ghibli. A big hit in Japan and even growing a cult following in America, the hype and good talk around this movie is so big, that a lot of people actually end up kinda not liking it. And I can see why. It's built up so much and this image is so popular that anyone going in thinking they're gonna see this spectacular big story is probably gonna be really disappointed. Luckily, when I went in, I had no expectations whatsoever. I just got it from a friend saying "Hey, this is a good movie, check it out". I did, and that's pretty much what I thought, too: it was a good movie. Not great, but, I don't think it's supposed to be great, I think it's supposed to be just a fun little flick. Why there's such an explosion over it, I don't know. Maybe people just like the sort of smaller flicks and want to get it more attention to a point where it's actually exploded into this giant franchise, kind of like how A Christmas Story has. But for what it is, I like it fine.
Doug (vo): The story's about a family that moves into a new home. There's a father, a mother, and two little daughters, played by the Fanning sisters. But they discover something very interesting about this home: apparently, there's spirits all over the place. In any other movie, this would probably be a scary thing. But the family just kind of accepts it and says, "Hi". Sometimes, the spirits say hi back, but most of the time, they just keep in hiding. And wouldn't you know it, one of them is a giant...koala-cat-a-roo...thing...known as Totoro. He doesn't exactly do much, he just kinda sleeps, takes the bus, he can fly, that's kinda cool, and he has absolutely no dialogue outside of one or two roars.
Doug (vo): And...that's about it. Really, that's the movie. It's just sort of watching these girls interact with this spirit and them getting used to moving to a new location, and...for whatever reason, it kind of works. And don't get me wrong, there's still some incredible imagery in this. The backgrounds are wonderful, there's this cat-bus thing that's now become world-famous, and a lot of the flying scenes are very nice. But if you were to ask me what happened scene by scene, like in order of the story, I couldn't tell you. That is to say, stuff does happen, you see them trying to get used to being in this place and interacting with boys and so on and so forth, but the story's not really the focus. The focus is more character and atmosphere. The casting of the Fanning sisters was a very clever call, as they work very naturally off each other. They don't act like co-actors or even just friends, they feel like sisters. Something about that camaraderie and the way they work off each other is pretty solid.
(Scene where Satsuki and Mei wake up to find Totoro's seeds sprouted)
Satsuki and Mei: I thought it was a dream! It wasn't a dream! I thought it was a dream! It wasn't! Yay, we did it! We did it!
Doug (vo): The rest of the voice acting is pretty good, too. Though not a ton is required of it, it's still pretty effective. It's kind of like spending a really laidback Sunday outside with some friends, maybe coming across a weird animal or trying to interact with it, playing around, getting dirty, coming home and going to sleep. That's...kind of the movie. But, again, that's kind of childhood, too, isn't it? Kind of those fun summer days where you could just sort of do whatever you want, you're out of school, and, I don't know, that's how I see this movie. It's just kind of a really fun yet laidback summer when you're a little kid. There's fun music and goofiness, but there's also a lot of quiet moments of just a character looking at another character or just taking the other in. And there's something actually really charming about it. I don't know. Maybe that's kind of the strange fascination with the film that absolutely nothing can happen onscreen, and yet, you're still kind of sucked into it.
[Scenes described next are shown]
Doug (vo): There's a whole scene where one of the sisters just sits on top of Totoro, and that's it. There's another scene where the other sister just waits for a bus with Totoro, and that's it. Yet something about the way it's paced and animated and delivered, it feels very alive somehow. You don't feel like you're being manipulated or, that, this is lazy. You look like you're watching something kind of cool. Not spectacular, but kind of cool. And the film allows you to take in that small bit of wonder. While it's not big, it still allows you to take in the full amount. You soak in the scene, you remember the feelings, you remember the expressions. If stuff like that doesn't do it for you and you're looking for something that's a lot more story-based, then you're probably not gonna have a good time with this. Granted, there is a dilemma in the last third of the film, but it almost feels a little forced and in some ways not needed. Like, the film just needed some kind of climax. But it's nowhere near so contrived that it ruins anything. You still wanna see everything turn out okay and stick with these characters. But, yeah, don't expect a lot of action or a lot of wonder or a lot of story, but just expect a small amount to be satisfied. I think that's part of the charm of Miyazaki's films. You have this art form of animation; anything you can draw can suddenly exist. And yet, they use it to tell the story of only a few fantastical things and focus more on the human characters. Something about keeping it so minimal actually makes you appreciate what's onscreen even more, at least, from my point of view.
Doug (vo): I don't know, I haven't heard there's like any kind of backlash for this film, but I've definitely heard of people that watched it and just didn't get what it was all about, and I can understand that. There is so much build-up for this movie, the image is shown all over the place, hell, it's even in (image of Totoro plush toy in Toy Story 3) Toy Story. If you're looking for a more relaxed film that you can pop in and just sort of enjoy the atmosphere of, you'll find it to be pretty charming, pretty creative, and just the right amount of entertaining. I personally don't see it as one of my favorites, I don't even know if I'd put it in one of Miyazaki's Top 5, but it's still good and there's a lot of effort that's put into it. It's small, it's simple, but who says there's anything wrong with that?
[A scene showing a girl sleeping on Totoro is shown]