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Old 01-25-2014   #1
JTurner
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Default My Neighbor Totoro

Aside from "Castle in the Sky", "Princess Mononoke" and "Kiki", this is another one of my favorite Miyazaki movies. Even today it's still as beautifully animated and richly textured as any Ghibli production.

And yet the debate over which English version of this movie is superior still rages on, with many fans of the FOX dub slamming the newer version with the Fannings. Unlike "Castle", in which I prefer the Disney dub for that as opposed to the older, abysmal '80s version (to the point where I am baffled at how anyone can say the opposite), I can say that the Macek dub of "My Neighbor Totoro" is a legitimately good effort. But having said that, I don't think it's just to dismiss a newer retelling because of that, especially when said redub is done by a staff who knows Miyazaki just as much as the folks back then did.

Listening again to the Disney version for awhile, I feel that Dakota and Elle really don't deserve the smacktalking for their performances as Satsuki OR Mei. Don't get me wrong, I also liked Lisa Michelson and Cheryl Chase, but having said that I thought the Fannings did a great job too. Dakota is mostly fine in the opening moments of the film when she's playing with Elle and her chemistry with her sister throughout the movie is good. The only little thing I noticed is that toward the end, she tends to restrain herself during the more emotionally distraught parts (while Michelson tended to do the opposite). Honestly, I think either interpretation works, because even with the subduedness on Dakota's part, one can still feel the distraughtness she feels when she learns about her mother's condition. Dakota also has a tendency to come across as slightly more mature than her age in places, and considering Satsuki's on the verge of leaving childhood, I think it works.

Elle Fanning, in my opinion, is arguably superior to Cheryl. Don't get me wrong, Chase was great for her time, but while I can say that it's a draw between Dakota and Lisa, for me what put Elle over the edge was the energy and authenticity she brought. It just feels nice to have an actual child voice this character for a change. She sounds much more "realistic", in my opinion. There was never a false moment in her performance where she sounded "emotionless", which is why I find it baffling that anyone could think that. Her delivery from the start is terrific.

Tim Daly and Greg Snegoff both play Kusakabe slightly differently. Snegoff is a bit more energetic and warm, while Daly is a bit more laid back. Nonetheless, he still does a fine job and has some moments where he really shines, like in the bathtub scene. It's kinda a 50-50 for me in this role. Both Lea Salonga and Alexandra Kenworthy tie IMO as Mrs. Kusakabe. I had no problems with either. I have to admit that it was a bit disconcerting at first to hear Pat Carroll as the Granny; at times it's hard not to think of her as Ursula. Nonetheless, she does a fine job overall and it is still nice to hear her in a Ghibli dub. Paul Butcher tends to get a lot of flak for his turn as Kanta, but personally I think both Kenneth Hartman and Butcher are great in this role. Butcher sounds distinctively younger and a tad more, well, "girly" at times, but he still has bits which made me chuckle: the grunts that he does when he tries to give Satsuki his Granny's lunch basket and his umbrella. As far as Frank Welker is concerned, it's a little hard to evaluate his Totoro since all he gets to do is grumble, roar, and snort. But I think he and the older Totoro both tie. There's something that I miss a tad about Welker's Cat Bus; the cat vocal effects are appropriate and fitting, but sometimes I can't help but recall the late Carl Macek's "Next stop, little sister." I do miss that at times, but it's no big deal.

The only two drawbacks that I notice about Disney's dub is the timing of the lipsync. Sometimes it's spot on, other times it's off by several seconds. It doesn't hurt the dub by any means, but it is a little unfortunate that the post Jack Fletcher dubs didn't have as much strict attention to the lipflaps. One of the things that I really loved about Fletcher's work for the first three Miyazaki dubs was his attention to detail in making the script flow smoothly while still remaining faithful and making it fit the mouths expertly. The subsequent Disney dubs don't always get it right in that department. The other disadvantage is that the OP/ED songs don't quite fare as well as the FOX ones. The Disney versions sound crisper and cleaner than the scratchy, tinny Fox ones, but Sonya Isaacs comes across as a little TOO gung-ho and western sounding as opposed to the more warm, softer Fox vocal.

Having said all this, I really don't see anything truly unwatchable about either dub of Totoro. To me, both are on par. That's something that I don't often say about earlier dubs of Anime that have been redubbed. As I've mentioned constantly, I prefer the newer dubs of Castle in the Sky as well as Akira to their dull, embarrassing earlier counterparts, but this film I can go either way. With Kiki, I have a bit of a bias for the Disney dub (that's the one I saw first), but that's not to discredit Macek's work on that film. Nadia's older dub was hit and miss, but the newer one is better. I haven't seen Cagliostro all the way through, but the Manga dub I liked well enough aside from the unnecessary profanity shoehorned into the script. Streamline's version didn't sound too bad either.
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