My Neighbor Totoro follows two sisters, Satsuki and Mei, who move into a dilapidated country house with their professor father. The girls find the house haunted by "soot spirits" who scamper from crack to crack and will only abandon the home at the sound of children's laughter. The forest surrounding their home is populated by an assortment of mystical creatures called Totoros. Mei befriends the eldest O Totoro, king of the forest, after she chases a fuzzy, ghost like critter into the king's lair under a giant camphor tree. O Totoro is huge with a frightful roar but prefers snoozing to harming children. Magical adventures ensue. The forest creates a diversion for the girls as they face the uncertainties of the real world.
Satsuki and Mei's affection for each other is clear and their father has an accepting attitude towards his daughters imagination. The film reflects Asian values of respect for parents and community and animal spirits. There is also a strong ecological theme throughout the film. Animation is simple - water color backgrounds with characters rendered in the Japanese anime style with large round eyes, out of proportion bodies, and cavernous mouths.
I loved the movie though it left me feeling a bit melancholy as it portrays the finite innocence of childhood and human mortality. While it is a sweet and touching film, it is not at all saccharine.
I think this is a great movie for pre k-4th and could be used as part of an animation/cartooning lesson for older students.