Although considered to be one of Studio Ghibli’s best works, I personally found it to be one of their most boring ones. Ok, maybe not as boring as their latest movies, which despite the far better visuals and lots of action are still dull as heck. It’s just that nothing important happens in this film. Ok, maybe it does for the kids but story-wise it is quite unimpressive compared to their earlier works. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (technically not the same studio but from the same people, so it counts) was a grim adventure in a post-apocalyptic world, while Laputa – Castle in the Sky was a zany adventure full of action. It seems like Hayao Miyazaki decided to make an even lighter than Laputa story, which is also why I liked it even less than it.
Let me clarify that there is nothing wrong directing-wise in Totoro and that it is a wonderful film for the family. It’s just that it will feel way too simple in plot and may tire a big part of the target audience for being just about the small, unimportant-to-the-rest-of-the-world adventures of two little girls in a simple rural village, and nothing more. While focusing entirely on its characters it helps to get attached to them a lot easier than being constantly distracted by what is going on in the setting, at the same time it feels like there is nothing serious going on for you to care. Of course if you try to see the story from the eyes of its heroines, then it will definitely feel like it’s the end of the world for them. Their mother is very sick and may never recover, and they go to a place which is considered to be magic and see lots of mystical creatures living there. For the mentality of little kids whose reality is shaken so hard, this will surely mean everything. From a more cynical point of view though, you might as well think that their mother is not even seen in the film so it’s like she doesn’t exist, or that we never find out what happens to her, or that this whole magical world only the girls see is just their imagination going wild and it’s not real at all.
Seeing it from a more introspective angle though, it does have some interesting themes. You could say that it’s showing how two children make-up a whole world, just to find a way to escape their cruel reality. That the whole world of Totoro is their own way of coping with their sadness, as well as how vivid the imagination of kids is to the point it can manifest entire worlds. Heck, you are not even sure if the world is imaginary only towards the end, when Totoro actively aids one of the girls to find her sister. All that make you think funny. And it’s not like their magical world isn’t a fun place, which every animal and object being sentient and moving around. I could even say that their weird facial grimaces are just so bizarre that they become memorable (seriously, what is going on with their eyes and mouths?).
So why wouldn’t I like such a nice premise, if it sounds so imaginative? Basically because I have seen far better similar stories. One movie in particular, titled Heavenly Creatures is almost like the teenage dark version of Totoro and I liked it a lot more for delving much deeper into the twisted minds of the heroines and eventually finding the cruel reality coming back to crush their world. That was such a trip! Heck, the same year Totoro was made, Ghibli also made Grave of the Fireflies, (of which I adored) which is also about two kids suffering because of the cruel reality and eventually being crushed by it as well. So what I am saying here is that Totoro’s magical land is way too detached from reality and plays out as nothing but pure escapism, something of which I don’t like at all. Do I need to remind you of how most modern anime are fan catering crap? Same thing. What about their mother’s fate? What about the police doing something? What changed by the end of the movie if the girls didn’t develop at all and the magical land is left there as a distant backdrop? Too many what are in this film if you don’t see it as JUST a fairy tale.
So, no, I wasn’t thrilled with it as so many others were. The production values are great as always and the magical creatures are adorable in their own spooky way but that’s it. It doesn’t make good use of its setting, other than a fancy presentation.
And now for some excused scorings.
ART SECTION: 9/10
General Artwork 2/2 (well-made)
Character Figures 2/2 (weird magical creatures)
Backgrounds 2/2 (well-made)
Animation 2/2 (good)
Visual Effects 1/2 (simple)
SOUND SECTION: 9/10
Voice Acting 3/3 (good)
Music Themes 3/4 (not great but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Sound Effects 3/3 (good)
STORY SECTION: 6/10
Premise 2/2 (interesting)
Pacing 2/2 (good)
Complexity 1/2 (not much)
Plausibility 0/2 (none)
Conclusion 1/2 (cheesy)
CHARACTER SECTION: 5/10
Presence 2/2 (strong)
Personality 2/2 (simple but well founded)
Backdrop 1/2 (simplistic but it’s there)
Development 0/2 (none)
Catharsis 0/2 (none)
VALUE SECTION: 7/10
Historical Value 3/3 (all-known)
Rewatchability 2/3 (high as it is easy and cute)
Memorability 2/4 (those Totoros are something but the rest of it are nothing)
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 3/10
Nice woozy feeling but nothing more.