My Neighbor Totoro, known in Japan as Tonari no Totoro, is often regarded as one of the best animated family films of all time. Little do many Western fans realize that two versions of the English dubbed movie exist. One made by Fox Studios and the other through Disney.
In 1989, just a year after its original debut, Totoro was adapted for English audiences by Streamline Pictures. The movie was exclusive to transatlantic passengers flying with Japan Airlines, and for four long years this was the one and only way to watch Totoro in English. Eventually Fox Studios acquired the rights to this exclusive dub and in 1993 they distributed it as a straight-to-video film.
While Totoro didn’t fair as well in America for cultural reasons and a lack of advertising, it still found an audience. Unsurprisingly, most of these viewers (myself included) were children. Totoro was always a movie I would show friends when they spent the night. Sort of a “You gotta see this!” attraction. Little girls yelling at dust sprites, a tubby monster screaming at the rain, an enormous multi-legged cat that also functioned as a bus — what’s not to like? And so Totoro became a classic in its own right, in my household and in many others.
By the time Totoro was released on DVD in 2002, Fox Studios only had two years of distributive rights left. In 2004 the rights were signed over to Walt Disney Studios, a company who had caught on to the magic of Studio Ghibli years prior. In fact, by 1998 Disney had already re-dubbed another Ghibli classic — Kiki’s Delivery Service. This was another film that had originally been dubbed by Streamline Pictures, and featured many of the same voice actors that had worked on the original Totoro dub.