‘My Neighbor Totoro' and ‘Howl's Moving Castle'
The deep yet whimsical magic of Japanese writer-director Hayao Miyazaki's animated films becomes even more potent with the superlative Blu-ray debuts of “My Neighbor Totoro” and “Howl's Moving Castle.”
Miyazaki's (2001's “Spirited Away”) joyously colorful, finely detailed hand-drawn animation is simply the stuff Blu-ray was made for, and Disney gives the imaginative fairy tales from the Oscar-winning filmmaker's Studio Ghibli first-rate high-definition transfers for their two-disc Blu-ray + DVD combo pack releases. Over the years, “My Neighbor Totoro” has become a cult favorite, and the 1988 family fantasy remains as charming as ever. Set in 1950s Japan, it tells the tale of sisters Satsuki, 10, and Mei, 4 (voiced by real-life sisters Dakota and Elle Fanning in the English dubbed version), who move with their loving professor father (Tim Daly) to a rundown country home to be closer to the hospital where their mother is a long-term patient.
The presence of soot sprites indicates the house has magical properties, and one fine sunny day, Mei discovers a large furry forest spirit named Totoro living in the huge camphor tree in their yard. The grinning, nonverbal Totoro becomes an enigmatic playmate to the somewhat neglected girls, and when an emergency arises, he and his magnificent pal The Catbus are quick to lend their aid.
While both films are capable of captivating adults and youngsters alike, “My Neighbor Totoro” is appropriate for even tiny tots, while the winding, sometimes dark tale of “Howl's Moving Castle” is better suited for older children.
Based on British author Diana Wynne Jones' young adult novel, 2004's “Howl's Moving Castle” is set in an enchanted realm that resembles old-world Europe but is populated by witches, wizards and flying monsters along with humans. One of the most famed and feared wizards is Howl (Christian Bale), who wanders the land in a ramshackle castle that walks on four chicken-like legs. Shy teenager Sophie (Emily Mortimer) meets Howl on the street one evening near her family's hat shop when the conjurer chivalrously flies her away from a pair of bullying soldiers. The innocent encounter enrages the jealous Witch of the Waste (Lauren Bacall), who is infatuated with Howl and puts a spell on Sophie transforming the teen into a 90-year-old woman (the late Jean Simmons). Sophie goes on a quest to find help, and an enchanted scarecrow named Turnip Head helps her gain entrance to Howl's castle, where Sophie befriends Markl (Josh Hutcherson), the wizard's boy apprentice, and Calcifer (Billy Crystal), the feisty fire demon who powers the castle.
Sophie also falls in love with Howl, a childish yet kindhearted soul on the run from the king's head sorceress, Madame Suliman (Blythe Danner), who has drafted him to fight in the terrible war. While the plot sometimes becomes a bit convoluted, “Howl's Moving Castle” offers a compelling and unpredictable adventure.
The combo packs include the Japanese, English and French versions of the films. Although the bonus materials are recycled from previous DVD releases, the discs are loaded with several making-of featurettes, original Japanese trailers and feature-length storyboards. For those who want to experience that Studio Ghibli magic on the big screen, the Oklahoma City Museum of Art is showing the anime house's latest film, 2011's “From Up on Poppy Hill,” at 5:30 and 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. For more information, go to www.okcmoa.com.
— Brandy McDonnell