The Secret World of Arrietty (2010)
Kari-gurashi no Arietti (original title)
Screenplay by Hayao Miyazaki & Keiko Niwa, based on the novel The Borrowers by Mary Norton; directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Almost two years after it was released in Japan, U.S. audiences can finally see the latest animated film from Studio Ghibli, producer of animated classics such as Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle. Co-written by Studio Ghibli’s guiding force, Hayao Miyazaki, it is directed by relative newcomer Hiromasa Yonebayashi in a style very reminiscent of Miyazaki.
While not as rich a story as Spirited Away or some of Miyazaki’s other films, Arrietty nevertheless drops us into a fully realized world where tiny humans live undetected by their giant counterparts. These “Borrowers” live simple lives off the land, only taking things they really need from the “beans.”
The detailed drawings, done with traditional hand-drawn animation, bring this world to life. No detail is too small. Even the physics of this miniature land are well handled, such as showing water droplets their true relative size–as giant globs to the Borrowers (pedantic note: you can always tell when miniatures are used in live-action movies because the size of water droplets is dictated by surface tension).
The plot is pretty basic. After living unseen but rumored to exist for many years, Arrietty (Bridgit Mendler) is accidentally seen by a sickly boy named Shawn (David Henrie), which prompts Arrietty’s parents Pod (Will Arnett) and Homily (Amy Poehler) to decide to move rather than risk inevitable capture. Predictably, Shawn wants nothing more than to coexist peacefully with the Borrowers; it’s his guardian Hara (Carol Burnett) who wants to exterminate them.
The film is a series of chases and adventures as Arrietty and her family try to avoid ending up in Hara’s clutches. Nonetheless, there is plenty of time to linger on the beauty of the world and be amazed at how everyday objects are reutilized by the Borrowers. Much of the humor in the film stems from seeing things like Arrietty lugging giant sugar cubes around.
The excellent camera work showed the immensity of the giant house from the perspective of the Borrowers. An effective sound mix gave an eerie echo to the giant world, subtly reinforcing the vastness and challenges of navigating through such an alien landscape.
The dub for the U.S. version was overseen by the folks at Disney, and they do their usual excellent job. There were a few points where the lip movements didn’t quite sync with what was being said, but these were minor. The voice actors provided the right inflections for this kind of tale.
The one thing I found slightly annoying was that despite being a confident, capable, and compassionate young woman, Arrietty is forced to obey her father’s command to move the family rather than try to resolve their differences with Hara. At the end of the story it is clear that Arrietty will be matched with a monosyllabic suitor, clearly her inferior, rather than be allowed to strike out on her own to explore the world which she obviously loves and is curious about.
Notwithstanding this peeve, the ending is satisfying, with everyone learning important life lessons about bravery, cooperation, and heart. This is a beautiful, thoughtful film that is the perfect antidote to the noisy, inane animated fare from most American studios.