Computer animators have it all wrong. In their endless pursuit of photorealistic environments, hi-tech toonsters have lost sight of the medium’s most compelling quality — imagination. Toondom’s true innovators actually steer stories away from the real world, and no one is better at weaving enchantment into every frame than Hayao Miyazaki (even the great John Lasseter is right to be humbled in the master’s presence). Nothing proves that better than Disney’s double-disc Studio Ghibli releases of Miyazaki’s latest, “Howl’s Moving Castle”; his best, “My Neighbor Totoro”; and charming oddity “Whisper of the Heart” (which Miyazaki scripted but did not direct).
Disney actually promised a “Totoro” reissue back in 2004, but held the release — quite possibly in order to accommodate the terrific new dub featuring Dakota Fanning and kid sister Elle as the on-screen sibs (a vast improvement over Fox’s 2002 pan-and-scan version). The story of two young girls who discover benevolent spirits living in and around their new home, “Totoro” conveys the world’s everyday wonders and terrors as only a child can see them.
A fitting companion piece, the Oscar-nominated “Howl’s Moving Castle” concerns a girl named Sophie who spontaneously ages from 19 to 90. These two stories are the least conventional in Miyazaki’s body of work, both unfolding slowly — one with the patience of age, the other with the wide-eyed curiosity of youth — and inviting magic elements to emerge in unexpected yet organic ways.
Disney didn’t exactly go overboard with extras, providing storyboards and behind-the-voices featurettes that shed light on the dubbing sessions, not Miyazaki’s creative process. “Howl” supplements these with extras detailing Pixar’s involvement in the English-language version.