Neil Hester

All poems © Neil Hester unless otherwritten

Location: North Carolina, United States

Wednesday, June 11, 2008



Without question, my favorite children's movie is "My Neighbor Totoro". The movie was originally released in Japan in 1988 as a double feature with "Grave of the Fireflies" (a contrasting animated film about WWII). Although FOX released a dub of the film in 1993, the movie never reached theaters in America, so it never enjoyed the kind of audience a mainstream Disney film usually attains. Disney released a redubbed version starring Elle and Dakota Fanning. Both are good, supposedly, though most consider the older FOX dub as the better of the two (I can confirm this, so when you set out to get a copy of this movie [something you will undoubtedly do after reading this entry], get the FOX version).

LAEvaside: I am about to delve into eastern animation, known to most as "anime". Before reading any further, note the following: I enjoy anime (it's one of my indulgences), but I'm not blind to the fact that the majority of anime has little to no artistic worth. However, that still leaves the minority to be properly addressed, which is where we will now pick up. [/laevaside]

Although Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli are often compared to Walt Disney and The Walt Disney Company, respectively, this comparison only brings into consideration the level of success both have attained on a surface level. Having watched many Ghibli films and many Disney films, I can say without a doubt that films from Studio Ghibli (those headed by Miyazaki in particular) are far superior to those from Disney. In fact, if you're only accustomed to western animation, Miyazaki's films (as well as certain other anime films) will likely change your outlook on animation completely; the difference is very pronounced.

This is not to say that earlier Disney films are completely without merit (I say "earlier" because I can't stand the more recent computer-animated films), as the animation is good, there are often some fairly entertaining musical numbers, and they're definitely entertaining from a child's perspective (and, to some extent, from an adult's perspective). A few Disney films are childhood favorites of mine. However, let's look at "My Neighbor Totoro" and see why and how it outstrips every Disney film to date:

First and foremost, there are no evil forces. There are no villains. There are no fight scenes. Conflicts are far more typical; illness is the main problem. Since when do characters get sick in Disney films? The two girls, Mei and Satsuki, are also convincingly normal; there's nothing particularly strange or special about them. In contrast to most western animated films, which often contain family conflict, the family unit is very strong; the girls have a kind, loving mother and a strong, supportive father. As for the magical creatures present, well... I don't want to give away too much, but they're far more enchanting than anything Disney could ever manage to come up with. I'm 17, and I still wish I could meet a Totoro. As for animation, the watercolor backdrops and brief natural interludes are a joy to take in throughout the film.

Finally, the music is very fitting and very good, courtesy of Joe Hisaishi. Here are a couple numbers I particularly like: Tonari no Totoro and Path of the Wind.

A brief aside: Western animation is just about always directed toward children. When you think "animated" in America, you immediately think "for children". As I noted earlier, "Grave of the Fireflies" (directed by Isao Takahata) is an anime film about WWII. It's extremely serious (not to mention depressing). A few other examples of animated films that target an older audience (note that these aren't necessarily good movies by my appraisal): "Princess Mononoke", "Akira", "Ghost in the Shell". Animation *is* capable of encapsuling more mature themes, contrary to popular Western belief. As for other good children's movies from Ghibli, "Kiki's Delivery Serice" is wonderful (almost as good as "My Neighbor Totoro").

Back to the main point of this thread- "My Neighbor Totoro"! I understand that most of my readers are not children; in fact, I'm fairly sure that most of you are adults. However, if you haven't seen "My Neighbor Totoro", do so, especially if you happen to have a rough day; I guarantee that this film is nothing short of fantastic and fit for people of any age, so long as life hasn't completely defeated the child in you. To quote Robert Ebert: "Whenever I watch it, I smile, and smile, and smile."

Take Care,

LAEvaside: Jess, you better watch this film! There's one character in particular that you're sure to just love~ [/laevaside]


Blogger Jessica Schneider said...

I'd never heard of that before. I'll have to check it out sometime.

I totally agree about the computer animation of today. Kids don't know a time back when cartoons reflected the stroke of an artists' hand. In other words, you knew Chuck Jones' Bugs Bunny and when someone else was drawing Bugs. Computer generated stuff removes all the "love" from it, or the personal touch rather.

I can admire some of the very early Disneys that were hand drawn, like Sleeping Beauty for example, though I don't watch it. But at least those cartoons were more individuated. Now the computer generated stuff coupled with the snarky humor makes those Disney films a headache for me. And Saturday morning cartoons today are terrible.

7:35 AM  
Blogger Neil said...

Yep- with computer animation, studios can manage to release new movies much more often than they were able to with hand-drawn animation, so it's more profitable. Now, I don't mind studios using CG to aid the process a little bit, but using it to create entire movies is shameful.

I also know exactly where you're coming from with the crude humor; notice that very few "G" films are released now. Most children's films are "PG", which for me is sad, because children should watch more wholesome content up to a certain age, as opposed to the current fare, which is at times quite offensive.

Anyhow, I'm off to New York for a few days, so take care~

11:52 AM  
Blogger Jessica Schneider said...

The worst is when you can tell the movie is just an endorsement of products.

Have fun in NY!

When you said I needed to watch this 'cause there is one character I'd love, I can only assume you mean there's a big, chubby cat involved.


7:38 PM  
Blogger Anthony said...

I saw Ghost in the Shell for a film course years ago. I wasn't really that into it--we were watching it after reading an article about about 'the cyborg' was a 'site of feminist possibilities' or something. I thought it was all about watching a topless animated woman run around for a while.

I liked lots of older Disney films when I was kid, but I think The Lion King was the last one I bothered to go see in the theatres. Their animation style seemed to degrade after that, and some of the films they did looked preachy. I think it is a shame that they moved away from the fairy tales because many of them have elements that are timeless, unlike a lot of original computer animated stuff they are making for kids right now.

10:24 AM  
Blogger Neil said...

Just got back in a few hours ago- great trip ^^ I quite enjoyed watching Wicked and Phantom of the Opera, among other things.

Anthony: I've never seen Ghost in the Shell, so I couldn't say. As for Disney, I'm not sure if Lion King is the complete cutoff for me (Pocahontas and Mulan are okay), but it's a reasonable marker for downhill movement. Disney put out a few good films in the early 90s (Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Lion King); then they became sparser and sparser 'til positive production ceased altogether. 'Course, the best of Disney can't stand with the best of Ghibli, so hey~

Jess: Oh my, I've been found out! Well, sort of~

1:24 AM  
Blogger Jessica Schneider said...

Glad to hear you had a fun trip. Hopefully you didn't have to pay too much extra to bring a suitcase.

I saw Phantom in London when I was 16. It was fun, but this Phantom in particular was a bit whiny.

6:56 AM  
Blogger Wanderlust Scarlett said...

Hey Neil!

I am a fan of Miyazaki's work, in particular, 'Spirited Away'.
It was a nice surprise to see this post, and of course I am off to go find Totoro now.

I also enjoyed Howl's Moving Castle fairly well - it was unpredictable, which was a nice change.

Thank you very much for the honorable mention and link last month to my adventures with Princess Bay. She's a lot of fun to visit with!

Scarlett & Viaggiatore

PS ~ Not sure if you knew it, but Seamus retired from blogging, and as far as I know, the writing circle is still floating but we are without a leader now. Not sure where this will end up, but keep your lion.

5:03 PM  

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