I just had the opportunity to finally see "Pom Poko," thanks to Disney's stateside DVD release. Fortunately, the dub is fantastic -- any qualms about "confusing" Japanese folktales and such seem to have been taken care of with the quality translation. The voice actors (only one "name" actor, a very fine/unrecognizable Jonathan Taylor Thomas) acquit themselves quite nicely, and it might be one of the best dubs I've ever heard.
The infamous enlarged scrotums, I'm happy to report, are such a small part of the entire experience that the fact that it was so dwelled on by dozens upon dozens of people for years prior to domestic DVD release is saddening. At first, yes, when a "pouch" is magically (and humorously) transformed into a red rug, it's amusing and a bit shocking. But that feeling wears off almost instantly.
Even though they changed the references of "scrotum" to "pouch," I'm still surprised Disney had the balls (pun intended) to release it, given their standards for "family"-esque (safe and arguably predictable) entertainment. There are a couple glimpses of actual nudity (breasts) and some humans die in rather morbid ways. I'm not inferring that I wish they hadn't released it, for if they had not I would have never seen it. I'm just happy with their decision. For once, at least in recent times, I feel the need to thank Disney whole heartedly.
The film itself is such a pleasure. It moves briskly, contains *beautiful* images and is endlessly entertaining. A large part of it's success is due to the constant narration; as others have noted, it almost seems like an exquisite documentary at times.
The story is simple yet effective: humans are destroying a community of tanukis, and the tanukis do everything they can to help preserve their home in way of transformation. It's often funny and adorable, but what's somewhat unexpected is the amount you'll be moved by their struggle. The ending, criticized by some, almost moved me to tears. I won't explain what happens, but some wise things are said.
As you probably know, the tanukis are somewhat distractingly called "raccoons" in the dub. I'm willing to forgive Disney for this obvious error, though, as they resemble the latter to a pretty high degree. And I'm sure it made it easier on the translators for lip synchronization (two syllables).
Not so surprising: "Pom Poko" was the top box office smash in Japan the year it came out (and Japan's own submission for best foreign film Oscar). Regardless of the minor violence/nudity/inflated scrotums (ahem), this film will appeal to anyone with a heart and a brain. It's not some minor little piece about tanukis humorously fending off humans, even if it sometimes appears to be. It's a major statement about man vs. nature, and it's often beautiful and witty and intelligent, the sort of thing most non-animated films aspire to be.
I know this might sound rash and pretentious, but I watched two films tonight: "Laputa" (Japanese with subtitles) and "Pom Poko" (English dub). Oddly, I liked this film more. Here's hoping that master director Takahata's underrated treasure will win over more viewers, thanks to Disney's recent bare-bones DVD release and the eventual airing on Turner Classic Movies this January.