Animated classic captures childhood through characters, cinematic wonder

When someone asks about classic movies, most people think about the  milestone movies for each movie genre. Bela Lugosi films for those horror-geeks, the typical 80’s high school movies for some nostalgic middle-aged woman (and current teenage girls), and, of course, Charlie Chaplin for all the hipsters and film buffs. Any way you slice it, there are some undeniable classics. The movies-less-watched can often times be the best movies, especially when created and directed by genius Hayao Miyazaki.

One of my absolute all-time favorites from Miyazaki has to be the perfect and magical animated film: My Neighbor Totoro, more commonly known as Totoro.

To say that Totoro is a perfect film is no overstatement.  From it’s childish and joyous feel to it’s touching moments, Totoro is the perfect family movie. If you are home alone and feel like watching something totally heart-wrenching but equally jubilant, this is the movie for you.

The story takes place in Japan in 1958, where sisters Mei and Satsuki move with their father to an old house in the countryside to be close to their mother who is in the hospital recovering from a serious illness. While exploring their new home, Satsuki and Mei discover that the house is inhabited by little dust-mite like creatures called susuwatari, which are little house spirits that are seen moving from light places to dark. The two girls soon meet the large forest spirit called Totoro, and go on a series of adventures with Totoro in the giant forest that is basically their backyard.

The best scene from My Neighbor Totoro has to be the mystifying and magical appearance of the Cat Bus on a rainy night where the girls are waiting with Totoro for their father’s bus to come home from work. Everything about this scene just makes my heart smile – from the little leaf atop Totoro’s head to protect from the rain, to the little Mei sleeping on Satsuki’s shoulders. To offer more protection, Satsuki offer’s her umbrella to the enormous Totoro, and he is delighted by the sound of the raindrops plopping onto the umbrella and shelter. Not soon after, the giant, bus-shaped cat glides up to the stop, and Totoro boards. The Cat Bus rides away with huge, glowing grin, and the father’s bus arrives.

Ever since watching this film for the first time when I was five, I loved the talent of Elle and Dakota Fanning. The two women who voiced the sisters, Satsuki (Dakota) and Mei (Elle), at the ages of 11 and 7 in the English dubbed version of the Studio Ghibli film in 2005. Their vocal performance is one of my favorite parts of the film, and I couldn’t have been happier with any other casting choice. Even though it’s only a cartoon, they delivered the characters and couldn’t have made it more enjoyable for the audience.

My Neighbor Totoro is not Miyazaki’s only masterpiece; other movies like Castle In the Sky, Spirited Away, and Howl’s Moving Castle, have captured audiences since Miyazaki first started. All of his movies have a certain feel to them, from a nostalgic to fun. Even if the plotline of the movie is depressing, he always manages to get the audience to feel hope for the characters. His movies are all about adventure and finding out who the characters  are and where they belong. From the amazing artwork of each frame to the amazing soundtracks, which are composed by Joe Hisaishi, any Miyazaki movie is a true work of art.

If you are looking for something to put on while babysitting small children or you just need something to watch, this movie is definitely at the top of my list. You don’t have to be a little kid to love the classic cinematic masterpiece My Neighbor Totoro, you just have to embrace the theme of the movie and keep a child-like spirit.