Jon Turner (jturner82) wrote in dub_support,
Jon Turner

My Neighbor Totoro (Fox dub and Disney dub)

WORD OF NOTE: I realize there are people who will disagree with my post and I respect that. However, I will not put up with disrespectful, hostile posts. I stand firmly behind this view, and if you disagree with it, that's fine. But any posts that come across as attacking and negative I will instantly delete.

To add some variety to this community I have decided to post some in-depth reviews to some of my favorite dubs of all-time. Most of these could be read on places like's English track forums, but I'm gladly gonna share them with you guys. Why? Because there are dubs out there which have been undeservedly passed over, and they deserve a far better fate than being dismissed. So that's what my newest posts will be to this site. My next review is about another beloved film by Hayao Miyazaki, My Neighbor Totoro. There is no argument that this is a such a charming film. However, there is a very hot controversy around the net from many who are disputing on which dub is the best or worst.

In the early 1990's, Fox distributed a dub produced by Carl Macek and Streamline Pictures. It was hailed, even by Macek's harshest detractors, as one of his finest efforts. The dub has proven to be popular, selling over half a million copies on video. When Disney acquired the rights for Miyazaki's movies, however, it was inevitable that Totoro was going to receive a new dub, whether fans liked it or not. Regretably, when Disney unleashed their version, many, many, many fans of the old dub napalmed it from the start, despite receiving fairly favorable reviews from reliable sources. In the past, there were dubs that were of such dubious quality that it was a miracle to find a fan of any of them. However, this new dub of Totoro is totally undeserving of such a backlash. In fact, if it had come before Fox's dub, it would have be hailed as a charming, delightful interpretation of Miyazaki's beloved classic... which, in this writer's opinion, it is. Even still, the constant negativity against the dub has fueled fire to those who believe that Disney only acquired Ghibli's works just to destroy them, an argument which is totally fatuous in every way.

While it may seem chic for internet fans to do so, I will not evaluate either the Fox or Disney dubs of Totoro by comparing them unfavorably to each other, but individually. The cast of Totoro is a considerably small one compared to most other Ghibli movies, so only the principal (important) characters will be covered.

Satsuki (Lisa Michelson, FOX dub; Dakota Fanning, Disney dub) -- The two sisters who serve as the main characters carry the show along, so it is important for both to be voiced appropriately and ACT like children. Lisa Michelson, the late wife of the ADR director for FOX Totoro, raises her mature-sounding voice to sound childlike. Usually such attempts can sound strained or unbelievable, but it works very well for Lisa. She obviously sounds like a sister of the verge of adulthood while struggling to maintain her childlike innocence.
Dakota Fanning takes the character in a similar way, with a different approach. She has an odd tendency to sound "older than her age," but this works pretty well with her character. There are some scenes where she comes across as more low-key than necessary, yet her interactions with her little sister Elle make the dub equally natural and believeable.

Mei (Cheryl Chase, FOX dub; Elle Fanning, Disney dub) -- Arguably the juiciest role in the show, Mei is a hyperactive and sometimes impatient youngster who often upstages her big sister. At the time I listened to the first dub, I didn't realize that Cheryl actually WAS trying to sound very childlike, because it sounded very natural. This is a very fitting example of adults voicing children convincingly.
Elle Fanning's interpretation is no less entertaining; in fact, one might argue that she steals the show. She is consistently lively and adorable, with a cute laugh to match. Her crying scene toward the end, too, is priceless. I've heard many declare that she is annoying, but one could say the same thing about Cheryl's take.

Dad (aka Mr. Kusakabe) (Greg Snegoff, FOX dub; Tim Daly, Disney dub) -- The scatterbrained but kindly father of the girls is at times easygoing and fun and other times serious and comforting, just like any father. Snegoff's approach on the character is pretty much as you would expect, and more than appropriate (he also served as the ADR director and wrote the script, as mentioned earlier).
Tim Daly plays the character identical to Snegoff's, and is pretty much on par. He has a soothing, soft gentle voice, and he doesn't hesitate to let go in the moments where he acts childlike (in the bath scene, for instance).

Mom (aka Mrs. Kusakabe) (Alexandra Kenworthy, FOX dub; Lea Salonga, Disney dub) -- The mother of the girls has a very small part, but is equally well played in both dubs. Both Salonga and Kenworthy have soft, motherly voices and portray their characters pretty much the same.

Granny (Natalie Core, FOX dub; Pat Carroll, Disney dub) -- This character is approached differently but effectively in both dubs. Natalie is as grandmotherly as you'd expect, very soft and gentle, only getting emotional in the film's critical scenes toward the end.
As for Pat Carroll, I was surprised when I found out that she was cast for this character, but there were no traces of Ursula within her. It was also very pleasing and refreshing to hear her play a different kind of character rather than a nasty, bargaining, double-crossing Sea Witch.

Kanta(Kenneth Hartman, FOX dub; Paul Butcher, Disney dub) -- One thing that both dubs have in common is that this impish youngster who teases Satsuki (and later befriends her) is played by a young boy. Kenneth's voice is noticeably lower than Paul's, but both play the character just as they should.

Totoro (Unknown, FOX dub; Frank Welker, Disney dub) -- The titular character is only in for a few scenes, and does little more than growl, grumble, roar. There is no actual credit to who did Totoro's voice in the Fox dub, but it's difficult to evaluate the performance as a whole when it has only one speaking line.
One of the biggest criticisms I hear of the Disney dub is the dubbing of Totoro's voice; fans have declared that he sounds too ferocious in comparison. However, I will argue that either interpretation is valid. Welker shouldn't be discredited, either; he is a fabulous actor and what he brings is no less credible.

Cat Bus (Carl Macek, FOX dub; Frank Welker, Disney dub) -- The approach to the most unusual character in the film is strikingly different in both dubs. In FOX's version, Carl Macek gives the cat a high-pitched male voice with only two lines, "Next stop, little sister!" which works fairly well.
Welker, on the other hand, provides the character with cat-like meows and at one point even screeches, "MEEEEEEI!"; an odd substitute, but it's no less effective.

Voices aside, the other difference in the FOX and Disney dubs is in the adaptation of the script. FOX's dub is sometimes a bit loose in places (naming the fuzzy creatures "dust bunnies", for instance), but is otherwise faithful to the original. Unfortunately, I did notice several places where the dialogue sometimes sounds stilted, particularly in Mei's confrontation with the goat. Yet since this was done in an era when technology had not yet caught up with how to do dubbing, I'm more forgiving.

The Disney version, scripted by the Hewitts, on the other hand, is a fresh new translation of the Japanese script, and it hews closer to it. Past Disney dubs have sometimes gone overboard with adding in extra dialogue (although I'm nowhere nearly as anal about it; the dubs are still charming), but with this one this habit is very much toned down. While many may argue otherwise, this script actually surpasses the FOX script, for sounding both natural and going the extra mile of including details that the previous dub neglected to mention (the origin of the Totoros, for instance). And while fans may groan all they want about "classic" lines being replaced, the fact remains is that the basic story is unchanged. There are a few places where the lip-sync doesn't always mesh, but note that I emphasize the word FEW.

There is no denying that the FOX dub is a classic of its time, but Disney's reinterpretation is by no means a disservice. To the average ear who has never heard of Totoro, it's a well-produced, appropriate-sounding dub, with a good cast and effective performances. While the arguments over which version is superior may rage on until the very bitter end, it's obvious that the creators of both dubs are fans of Miyazaki, and it shows in both takes. Each takes their own approach to the story, and are neither better nor worse. They simply are what they are.
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