The climax of My Neighbor Totoro doesn’t involve the Volvo-sized hamster of the title, nor does it involve a sick mother who can only be cured by magic – it involves only a five-year-old girl who is lost and scared because she thinks that she can. Like childhood the film involves a lot of running around and laughing and getting grass stains in exotic places. And it drifts into genuine fear, and magic saves the day.
Harry possesses none of the fairytale virtues: no great strength or speed or cunning. When they were handing out panaceas, the poor kid must have been grounded. His destiny follows him, as other people make it. (“She knows more about you than you do,” Ron says.” Harry’s reply is from someone losing to his identity crisis: “Who doesn’t?”).
Christophe Gans admirably refers to Jean Cocteau’s 1946 La Belle et La Bête while presenting a version of the fairytale that should read as authentic even to those who have only seen the Disney one. What he does not do is capture the original’s symbolic poetry or frame the old pieces in such a way that their retelling is a revelation.