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Prior to the mid 1990s few Americans had heard of Hayao Miyazaki. But, with the success of Toy Story , the anime fans at Pixar Animation studios (John Lasseter in particular) were able to flex their muscle at Disney to get the Mouse House to acquire and release much of Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli films (including a couple films then still in-production) theatrically in the U.S.
My Neighbor Totoro was one of the earlier Miyazaki anime films released direct to video (and later to DVD) by Disney in the U.S. It’s by far one of the simplest of the stories by Miyazaki, and therein lies it’s charm. Two young girls move with their father into a home in the Japanese countryside, and try to manage without their bedridden mother who is in a hospital far away. They soon learn that their house and the surrounding wilderness are inhabited by all sorts of supernatural creatures, including the giant Totoro.
Despite all the mythical beasties, My Neighbor Totoro is one of the most human tales Studio Ghibli has put out, and the simple, universal storyline translates well, whether subtitled or dubbed.