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Disney's version of My Neighbor Totoro
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saxifrage00
...sucks.

Actually, I can only speak to the dub so far, but it makes me fear for how Disney might have mangled the subtitled version, too.

There are so many things wrong with it. For starters, they can't pronounce "Totoro" or "Satsuki" at all right, and Dakota and Elle Fanning are far to old to be doing the voices for Satsuki and Mei. The voice-acting for Totoro makes his voice less otherworldly and more like a grumpy bear with indigestion. (They make Totoro snore! That's just wrong.) The voice-actor also just can't do the volume of the original and makes Totoro sound like a wussy King of the Forest. The original Catbus is a surreal and freaky thing, but this one is quieter and sounds like a kitten, neutering its weirdness. But these are just symptoms of overall weak voice-acting: all of them fail to cover the dynamic range of emotion and expression called for, leaving every moment disappointingly flat. Even Satsuki's breakdown and cry, the most overwhelming part of the movie for its expression of vulnerability in her otherwise strong and indomintable character, is weak and glossed over, changing a pivotal moment in the character's development into a confusingly pointless and bland scene.

Disney really has a problem with big-name-voice-actor addiction, I think.

The very worst in my view, though, is that they rewrote the dialogue. My Neighbor Totoro is as much a story about pastoral Japan as it is a story about a mythical creature, and the scriptwriters for the dub totally fucked with that. Every little aside that added character has been removed or replaced. (And those that haven't been are badly delivered.) Every bit of obscure or quirky culture that isn't plausibly American has been overwritten. Little pieces of North American culture have been added as replacements and the dialogue written such that it "flows" better—with a significant sacrifice of the little nuances that make the first half of the film worth watching. In combination with the flat voice-acting the result is inane and boring dialogue, and I think I'm obliged to somehow compare it with pablum. The little notes that showed a tight and loving family have been tweaked and distorted into unrecognisability; in the scene where they're doing laundry, instead of saying "Okay, we're done now," he says "Okay, your chores are done now," (emphasis mine). It's subtle, but it breaks the establishment of the united family—which is a vital component of the story that underlines how much the mother's hospitalisation affects the family, as well as being part of the point of the film.

Innumerable other little things are wrong with it, too. There are several points where subtitles are randomly deposited on the screen in a way that is as welcome as steaming turds: in one scene, the word "OCEANOGRAPHY" jumps into the middle of the screen when the last thing that is relevant to the scene is what just one book out of a dozen other books near the edge of the screen has written on its cover. This happens several times, with subtitles popping up to translate something random and irrelevant on the screen at inopportune and distracting times. Do we really need to know that the blackboard says "WEDNESDAY" when the plot is busy developing in the diaolgue? Why the fuck should we need to know that the schoolwork says "PINETREE, PINETREE, PINETREE", using ugly aliased yellow block letters that blot out the graceful strokes on the page? Do we really need to be told that the road-side sign that the bus just stopped at says "BUS STOP"? The worst appearances of the Stupid Subtitle Faeries is when someone is reading or writing a letter: while writing one, Satsuki is reading it out in a "in her head" voiceover, but this is obviously not clear enough, because "DEAR MOM, HOW ARE YOU?" jumps in the way to tell us what's on the page—never mind that there are entire paragraphs of text so it's obviously not a useful translation, nevermind that the voiceover is more than sufficient for the purpose of letting us know what's on the page (at least in this translation), but most of all what Satsuki reads in the voiceover contradicts the subtitle! Fuck!

(Hmm. I seem to be channelling greyweirdo tonight. An appropriate spiritual companion for panning a horrible treatment of a great film.)

Ah, the credits. English translation by Jim Hubbert. Now I know where to send the hatemail.

Helloooo? Disney? Did you forget to bring your production values with you to school that day and figured we wouldn't notice? Wankers! When Troma can produce a better dub you know you're doing something horribly, horribly wrong.



Well that's a relief: the subtitled version is reasonably well-done.

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American voice actors were never worth their money when unleashed on something that wasn't American-produced.

Mark Hamill has done some very good work in Miyazaki films. Granted, it sounds like he's almost a naturalised Japan...ese? ian? onic? (What is the word that is to "Japan" as "Canadian" is to "Canada", anyway?)

I kept away from Miyazaki's movies for a while before I figured out my big problem was the English voice acting. I'm still slightly ambivilent, but that could be residual effects.

Disney has really half-asses the work on all the import stuff they've done. When you realize most the truly terrible Jackie Chan imports are owned by Disney and all the lousy anime imports were done by Disney it all comes into focus. At least as far as I can tell they don't re-edit Miyazaki's stuff.

Fucking Disney

Hopefully with the recent change in board members and the purported return of traditional animation, the attitude will change.

Then again, it might be exactly that revival that makes them all the more protective of "their" market. Alas.

It at least there is some hope.


I'm fairly satisfied with the English dub of Nausicaä, but of course I always watch that in Japanese with subtitles. I didn't realise how horribly wrong some Disney dubs were until now, though.

Really, watching it with subtitles is always best. Avoids the Disney wankerism and cuts straight to the Miyazaki goodness.

Mostly I try to avoid dubs if I can anyway. It took a while for me to come to that conclusion, but once DVD made it easy to switch between them I found that the performances were almost always better. It counts towards any movie, not just animation, though animation tends to get the most retched dubs of all.

Yeah, Disney's done a pretty horrible job with the Miyazaki material - suntitles all the way on this one.

(Admittedly, I watched them in dub when they were on TCM - but a lot of them I then watched again in the subtitles or already have watched in subtitles.)

I've watched some behind-the-scenes stuff and heard stories here and there, and those actors have it tough - very few props, a small booth, and matching the lip flaps. And they're usually alone, so they don't have anyone to feed off of, and more often than not, they don't even have tape of the other lines being read. It's not an environment that lends itself to good acting without imagination.

Disney's been lacking in imagination for a while, now, so I guess I'm not surprised that a considerable number of their dubs do as well.

That's true, and I shouldn't be so hard on the voice talent. I knew and forgot about how Disney's been doing their dubbing, and yeah, it's a really dumb way of doing it unless they want to maximise the likelihood of it coming out poorly. I suppose it's all in the name of cost reduction. (hint! hire someone that won't cost you so much for a voice-acting contract! good casting isn't the same as getting the biggest name you can find!)

So I reiterate, wankers!

Almost all dubbing operations are like that, actually. And there are always complaints about the quality of a dub, for any animation. (Dubbing is expensive, so cost reduction kind of works across the board)

The big name cast people could probably do better, if they didn't have to deal with the often aggravating dub script. (Another tough thing to do well.)

Which as many things that could go wrong, it's surprising there aren't more wankeries. Disney having the lion's share of them, however, points to something other than the process.

I suspect that they just don't put as much money into dubs that aren't major films like Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke. The Nausicaä dub is pretty good, but I think they recognised that as an important Miyazaki film. (Or I'm just biased.)

Fortunately, the 1993 Troma/Fox release of Totoro is considered a rather good dub, and I have to agree. It does takes some liberties with the script, but they seem to be ones that support the film and original meaning of the dialogue rather than just randomly diverge from it for the sake of easy lip-synching. And, I must say, the quality of the voice-acting is excellent. It's just too bad that it's a 4:3 version of the film. (I have a geeky fantasy of ripping the 2006 video and combining it with the 1993 audio track to make one Super Version that will take over the worldgive me the best of both worlds.)

No worse, than, say, someone distributing the Han-shoots-first original Star Wars after the "special Editions" have come out - people need purity.

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