Two young girls move to the countryside with their father in order to be closer to their mother who is in hospital with a long-term illness. They soon stumble across a friendly forest spirit by the name of ‘Totoro’ who, along with his colourful companions, help the girls whenever they find themselves in trouble.

My Neighbour Totoro (1988) – Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Is This Movie Suitable review My Neighbour Totoro

Rating: PG

Running Length: 86 mins

Starring: (English Language Dub: Dakota Fanning, Elle Fanning, Tim Daly)

Genre: Fantasy, Animated

 

REVIEW

Film writer, creator and director, Hayao Miyazaki has clearly put all of his enthusiasm and passion into ‘My Neighbour Totoro’, making it one of Studio Ghibli’s most treasured and iconic movies. Featuring beautiful animation and a fun, emotive score, the landscape of post-war rural Japan is wonderfully brought to life. The bond between the two lead girls, Satsuki and Mei, is endearingly innocent as are their delightful interactions with Totoro and his friends. Totoro himself is a triumph of appealing to childish wonder. He’s big and soft; clearly a little playful; somewhat mystical, and completely lovable.

A critic more familiar with western animation may try to assert that this movie is slow to start, which we suppose is true. There are no explosions, no fast paced editing, no snazzy 3D effects and there is certainly no world threatening danger to be averted. Nor should there be. ‘My Neighbour Totoro’ is a very human experience, and ‘experience’ is the right word. Very little happens in terms of ‘plot’, but each scene is effortless in its ability to hold your fascination both for adults and children alike. This movie is a sweet but comforting tale about the delightful inquisitiveness of children and the strength of positivity. It doesn’t need to rudely announce its presence to the world and yet, by being quietly respectful of its audience’s attention, it easily enthralls all with its heart warming sense of fun.

IS ‘MY NEIGHBOUR TOTORO’ SUITABLE FOR CHILDREN?

While this is very much a family friendly movie which is loved by children of all ages, there are a few moments which we feel are worth mentioning.

Totoro is a furry, animal-like spirit who lives in the forest near the family’s new home. Other than saying his name, he doesn’t speak and is so huge that all of the noises he makes are amplified, making him sound like a lion roaring. When he is first introduced, he states his name, concentrating each syllable until arriving at the final part which reverberates out of him with extreme volume. We recently saw this movie with a 5-year-old and a 2-year-old and while the older child loved Totoro instantly, the younger child was terrified of the loud sounds he made in this introductory scene and we had to turn the movie off (until he had gone to bed!). However, a mere six months later and with some parental support, he too became delighted at the lovable furry spirit’s presence on-screen. Our own 3 year old never had such a reaction to the scene and has loved the film since the first time he saw it.

Totoro is never aggressive in the slightest and similarly, there is never a time when Satsuki and Mai (the two lead girls) are afraid of him. Indeed, they actually enjoy imitating his noises with gusto and as children will likely relate to these two young protagonists they will also likely react in a similar way.

The girl’s mother is in hospital for the entire movie and while her illness is never specified, it is clear that she has been there for a long time. During the movie, the hospital informs the family that she has taken a turn for the worse (without supplying any further information). This leads the girls to be incredibly worried about her. Satsuki, as the older sister, tries to be strong but is unable to hide her anguish for long. Mei then disappears while trying to help, leading Satsuki to desperately search for her. Children are likely to relate to this and may therefore be concerned for the safety of these characters. However, although the scenes leading up to this show Satsuki crying with worry about her mother, when it comes to trying to find Mai she is practical and focused on finding her sister, despite her worry. At the risk of giving the ending away, Totoro and a useful friend both assist in some unique and helpful ways.

CAN I SEE A CLIP

VERDICT

As some young children can often be somewhat sensitive to the idea of death and loss, we feel that it might be worth an adult being present when any such child is watching this movie to explain what is happening and to reassure them. Children who dislike loud noises may also need reassurance when Totoro does his signature roars. However our experience tells us that the splendour of the film will soon outweigh these very remote parts.

On the whole, this is a movie which is loved by children the world over. The story is simple but masterfully delivered to keep everyone hooked. This movie (and its catchy songs, which you WILL be humming endlessly) is likely to stay with you for years to come!

  • Violence: 0/5
  • Emotional Distress: 3/5 (we are erring on the higher side of scoring here as the last 10 – 15 minutes of the film show Satsuki in a very worried state. How much a child reacts to this will be almost entirely down their own sensibilities)
  • Fear Factor: 1/5  (Totoro’s loud roars are few and far between, but can certainly make a child ‘jump’!)
  • Sexual Content: 0/5
  • Bad Language: 0/5
  • Dialogue : 1/5  (Satsuki gets upset when talking about her sick mother during the last act of the film)
  • Other notes: Deals with themes of family as well as childhood innocence and fantasies.

Words by Laura Record

My Neighbour Totoro [DVD]


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