My Neighbor Totoro – Review (Spoiler Free)

TotoroIs there a more perfect, respectful and imaginative ode to childhood than Totoro?


Capturing the essence of childhood without being condescending nor trite is Totoro‘s great triumph. Every scene pops with imaginative creatures or genuine emotion; whether that be excitement, fright or wonderment, and the film speaks at least as strongly, if not even more so, to adults as it does kids. A true family film, Totoro will charm and delight children but will also awaken that dormant inner child within us all and give us a welcome reminder of when, if we were lucky, we could look at the world with innocent eyes, finding magic and adventure in every shadow of a house and at the foot of every tree.

When two young girls and their father move into a new home in the country they find that the house is just ramshackled enough as to be exciting rather than scary, and may well be old and abandoned enough so as to be full of magic and adventure.  It’s not long before the children are finding hugely charming creatures in and around their home such as the totoros who are part ethereal forest spirits, part cuddly imaginary friends. It’s not the plot that’s really important here, the film just drifts from one beautifully observed moment to the next and it is impossible not to be swept along with it.

My Neighbor Totoro

This is one of those rare films were I don’t have a real legitimate criticism to make, to try and find one would just be doing the film a disservice. The voice acting is excellent, the visuals are consistently stunning, and the narrative of the film is as excellent at depicting the innocence of childhood as it is some of the film’s darker elements. I know of no other film which so succinctly and legitimately recreates the inquisitive and wonderfully imaginative world of childhood, complete with all of its fears and joys, dreams and brutal realities. I shall leave you with this quote from Ebert who I think sums up this movie better than most:

‘Here is a children’s film made for the world we should live in, rather than the one we occupy. A film with no villains. No fight scenes. No evil adults. No fighting between the two kids. No scary monsters. No darkness before the dawn. A world that is benign. A world where if you meet a strange towering creature in the forest, you curl up on its tummy and have a nap.’ – Roger Ebert

Summary:

What is the film’s greatest strength? The joyous and incredibly honest representation of childhood.

Its greatest weakness? No legitimate criticism here.

Would I see it again? Absolutely, I have seen Totoro several times already and it is endlessly watchable!

Release your thoughts out into the comment box below!

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20 comments

  1. Great review, haven’t seen this for ages but reading this makes me want to.

    1. Cheers buddy! You should see it again, it’s a rather wonderful little film!

  2. Great review! Before watching this for the first time I didn’t know what the movie as about and actually thought it was an animated horror movie (at least a scary movie for children). I kept watching Totoro do nice things and waited for him to turn into an evil monster. Fortunately he never turns out to be a blood-thirsty demon like I had expected (I hope this isn’t a spoiler…). I wish I would have known that “No scary monsters” are in this film before watching it. After discovering the true spirit of the film I loved it (for very different reasons than why I set out to see it initially).

    1. Thank you!
      Oh wow, it must have been a shock then when you realised the true tone of the film! Glad to hear that you love the film, have you seen many Ghibli films?

      1. I really was waiting for chaos to ensue all the way up until the credits rolled. With about ten minutes left in the movie I remember thinking “wow Totoro is going to have to do a lot of damage really quickly. The movie’s almost over”. Sadly I’ve only seen this and Spirited Away.

        1. Haha that’s very odd. Do you know why you thought it would be like that?

          Ah well there are loads that I could recommend. Kiki’s Delivery Service is lovely, Princess Mononoke is excellent but not as cute as Totoro and if you want to cry then Grave of the Fireflies is your film.

          1. There is a fan theory that Totoro is the God of Death and only can be seen by people who are about to die (similar in a way to Harry Potter’s Thestrals). I think I read that a long time ago and vaguely remembered it as I started the movie. At that point the theory settled in my mind as fact and I waited for bad things to start happening.

            I’ll have to check those out. I already wanted to see Kiki’s Delivery Service after your great review!

          2. Wow, yeah that would give you the wrong idea for sure!

            Oh thank you – it’s certainly a good one!

  3. Adele · · Reply

    Sounds like one I should see. Thanks

    1. No problem, I hope you like it!

  4. Abbi · · Reply

    Probably my favourite children’s film of all time. Also CATBUS!

    1. Yeah definitely! One of my all time favourites in fact. And yes, the catbus is very special indeed!

    1. Isn’t it just!

  5. Great review of a great film

    1. Cheers Benjamin! It is a wonderful film for sure.

  6. I have one criticism of My Neighbour Totoro, which is that the Catbus is a really gross concept, sort of body horror, yet the film treats it as a cute & magical idea. But maybe that’s just me.

    1. I get that but I just see it as part of the lovely and slightly crazy tone of the film. I think in any other film, perhaps even any other Ghibli, it would be fairly horrific.

  7. One of those movies which never gets old, no matter how many time you have seen it before. Nice review

    1. Yeah and since I wrote this I have seen it I think twice more!
      Thank you!

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