My Neighbor Totoro ★★★


Having seen the glorious bus-stop sequence out of context (at a friend's annual movie clip party, some years ago), I'd hoped this might be the Miyazaki film I'd longed for—one that would refrain from weighting down its flights of fancy with heavy-handed ecological messages, avoid indulging in sticky-sweet innocence-of-a-child sentiment. Just reveling in the gorgeous drawings without distraction would be sublime. Alas, Totoro is barely present in My Neighbor Totoro, making his first appearance nearly 30 minutes into a film that runs less than 90 and only showing up at sporadic intervals thereafter. Everything involving "him" (?), his smaller "relatives" (??), and the frickin' Catbus (!!!) totally enchants, and I tend to assume that folks who adore this picture focus exclusively on those bits and more or less forget about how much of it is the little girls running around squealing at Life Itself. Or perhaps I'm just projecting my own impatience with children at play, who are cute for a few minutes but don't exactly provide—apologies for the pedophilic suggestion here; I can't think of a better way to phrase it—long-term stimulation. (I know: Eww.) (Also, major exception: Little Fugitive, which fascinates as a semi-improvised quasi-doc that doesn't put its pipsqueak on a pedestal.) And while I understand that it's a movie for kids and doesn't want to unduly frighten them, must the mother be "suffering" from one of those suspiciously beatific illnesses with no visible symptoms apart from being in a hospital bed? Overall, the ratio of cutesiness to splendor is roughly 9:1, which doesn't say modern classic to me even if the isolated highlights are beyond indelible.