My Neighbor Totoro is a Studio Ghibli classic about a family who move into a house on the edge of an enchanted forest to be near their mother in hospital – not to be near John Turturro.
Released in 1988, this film is completely charming from start to finish, thanks to its gentle nature, detailed animation and adorable characters – including the cute Mei and the lovable Totoro: a sleepy, giant cat-rabbit spirit-creature, a bit like Snorlax but around 8 years before Pokémon came along. He whisks the two little girls away from their worries and flies around with an umbrella, like a furry Mary Poppins.
It’s arguably Hayao Miyazaki’s mixture of Japanese and Western influences that provides much of Ghibli’s global appeal, also evidenced by the Cheshire cat bus – as in a magic bus that resembles Lewis Carroll’s Cheshire Cat, rather than a cat bus that goes to Cheshire, which would be too long a journey even for a magic bus.
Another key to the studio’s international popularity is its universal themes, in this case childhood, ailing parents and nature, with an emphasis on trees, animals and vegetables. This is a funny, endearing and enchanting combination of fantasy and ecology, more kid-friendly and incident-free than Spirited Away, but its gentleness always feels genuine and never cloying – a result of Miyazaki’s personal lightness of touch.
Studio Ghibli’s movies have a magical quality that Disney has shed over time, and My Neighbour Totoro is a perfect early example.