What Kind of Animal Is Totoro?
My Neighbor Totoro introduces Hayao Miyazaki’s original creature, Totoro, a lovable animal that helped two sisters through a tough time in their lives. This Studio Ghibli story takes place in a rural Japanese town in the 1950s as the main characters’ mother struggles with her health. The younger sister Mei meets the titular fluffy creature one day and is absolutely excited to tell her sister Satsuki. Mei says that she saw a “Totoro.” Satsuki says that she mispronounced the Japanese word for a troll, torooru, but Mei insists that what she saw was different.
Does that mean that Totoro is actually just a troll? No. In fact, Totoro is a completely different animal, and there’s more than one kind — there are three! Let’s dive in and meet all three different kinds of Totoros.
Chibi Totoro is the smallest of all of the Totoro. He has ghostly white fur and big curious eyes. Unlike the other Totoro, he does not have a nose. As a result, his expressions are significantly more limited than the bigger Totoro, but his abilities are even more unique. Chibi Totoro is quick, agile, and spontaneous. This tiny Totoro even has bird-like feet! There is also a pronounced tail, which adds to his bird-like design. Perhaps it helps him blend in with the other creatures his size.
But when he can’t blend in, Chibi Totoro has another ability that is rare and wonderful: Chibi Totoro can turn invisible! His ghostly white fur becomes truly ghostly as he fades into his surroundings. This helps him sneak into more populated areas when he does decide to scurry outside of the forest. He can move around in the world and people won’t even notice! That’s much different than the biggest Totoro we meet in the film. But they’re all friends, and we can see them working together when Chibi Totoro helps with the tree growing ritual. Chibi Totoro holds a teeny tiny little leaf above his head that’s perfectly suited for his size.
Chu Totoro is the medium sized Totoro. Instead of white fur, Chu Totoro has blue fur. He has three upward pointing chevrons across the top of the white fur on his belly. He has big eyes like Chibi Totoro, but they don’t appear quite as big compared to the size of the rest of his body. Also like Chibi, Chu has pointy ears that are extremely big, maybe even bigger! Chu also has a little tail that bounces behind him as he walks. He has three claws on the ends of his arms and legs that are perfect for grabbing and holding things. And maybe because of those three little claws, Chu Totoro is quite resourceful.
He carries around a hefty bag with him nearly everywhere he goes! What’s in the bag, you ask? Acorns, of course. After all, they’re his favorite treat! He carries the acorns, plants the acorns, and even helps to grow brand new acorn trees. Chu Totoro is always helpful, and when it’s time for the ritual to grow the giant acorn tree, he leaves the bag behind and picks up a big leaf. The leaf looks just a little bit like the umbrella that the biggest Totoro carries around. The leaf covers his head and almost seems to act as a magic wand as he lifts it up and up and up!
Totoro-Oh, sometimes translated to King Totoro, is a spirit of the forest. Totoro-Oh is absolutely massive — at least three times as big as Mei or Satsuki. Totoro-Oh stands out the most from the three, and not just because of his size. His design is certainly the most distinct, and it makes perfect sense why. Not only is he the biggest, but if his name means King, then he’s probably the King of all Totoro! His eyes are just about the same size as Chibi Totoro and Chu Totoro, so they look almost small on him. But even though his eyes look small, his smile always is big and bright! He often smiles from cheek to cheek, where he has three big whiskers poofing out on either side. His ears aren’t exactly the same shape as the other Totoro, but they point up just the same. Totoro-Oh’s nose is big too. He has many more chevrons on his chest too.
Totoro-Oh also has really big teeth and a really big mouth. We get to see just how big when he roars on the top of all the trees with Satsuki. He roars so loud that the whole tree shakes and the leaves move like a storm is passing by. Even getting up to the top of the tree was an amazing feat! He can jump and bounce so high that it seems like he’s flying. With the umbrella, he practically can fly. Even the way that he runs up the trees, as if gravity simply couldn’t affect him, shows just how in touch with nature this giant forest spirit really is. Totoro-Oh is a part of nature, and nature responds to him. That’s why when he uses his power to make all the acorns blossom and grow, nature listens and grows. He is the biggest and most powerful Totoro.
So Totoro isn’t any other kind of animal, even though Chibi Totoro is bird-like. They’re not exactly birds, even though Totoro-Oh seems to be able to fly. They’re like nothing anyone has ever seen before. They’re an innocent and sweet creation from the mind of Hayao Miyazaki. So what kind of animal is Totoro? He’s a Totoro!
Which Totoro is your favorite? Let us know in the comments, and don’t forget to Let Your Geek Sideshow!