Review — The Secret World of Arrietty
Studio Ghibli’s latest animated feature is a charming blend of small characters, big hearts, and grand adventure.
With the advent of CGI animation, traditional animated films are a dying breed. But if one studio knows how to fully utilize the hand drawn medium it’s Studio Ghibli. Often referred to as the “Disney of Japan,” Ghibli has a long list of critically acclaimed features including ‘Kiki’s Delivery Service’, ‘Princess Mononoke’, and ‘Ponyo’.
Prestigious pedigree aside, I was curious to see how ‘The Secret World of Arrietty’ held up against its CGI counterparts. And to be honest, it’s in a league of its own.
Adapted from Mary Norton’s ‘The Borrowers,’ the story focuses on the titular Arrietty, an adventurous teenage girl who lives with her parents in a quaint, country home. Or underneath it to be more precise. Arriety and her family are “Borrowers,” tiny people who live in hiding alongside normal humans. To survive, they borrow things like food, tissues, and other supplies that people wouldn’t notice were missing.
Arrietty’s family lives a secretive, yet happy life together choosing to avoid all contact with the much larger and therefore dangerous humans. Her father Pod is a quiet man and skilled borrower. Pod’s stoic nature contrasts greatly with Homily, Arriety’s mother, a high energy housewife who constantly assumes the worst in everything. Homily’s nerves are even more on edge now that Arrietty is finally old enough to join Pod on borrowings, which while essential, could easily mean death by house cat, bird or any number of demises.
Arrietty’s first borrowing coincides with the arrival of a young human boy named Shawn. The country home that Arrietty’s family lives under belongs to Shawn’s grandmother. Shawn is in very poor health and his mother thinks time in the fresh air will help. He grew up listening to his mother’s stories of little people that lived in the walls and it isn’t long before he spies Arrietty running through the garden.
As Arrietty and Shawn continue to gain awareness of one another, it creates a beautiful coming of age story using two different perspectives. Arrietty and her family live in fear that they are the only borrowers left. Shawn’s illness has him coping with death as a young man. It’s two different struggles, that compliment each other gracefully as Arrietty and Shawn’s fascination with each other grows.
Other than cats, birds or other animals, the role of antagonist belongs to Hara the housekeeper. Hara is a curmudgeonly old woman who although pure in her intentions to care for Shawn, has been driven almost mad by the borrowers. It’s become her mission to prove that tiny people do exist, and that she isn’t a crazy spinster. While not as sinister as a typical Disney foe, Hara’s form of villainy is still intriguing. The only way she can get close to the borrowers is by stalking the ever growing friendship between Shawn and Arrietty.
The characters and themes are all enchanting in their own rights, but it’s the proven artistic skills of Studio Ghibli that brings the real magic. Arrietty’s home is decorated in postage stamps, wrist watches, thimbles, and other object considered tiny by our standards. To get from one part of the house to another Arrietty and Pod traverse mesmerizing caverns of nails and other contraptions all tucked away under stairwells and behind walls.
And even though this is a Studio Ghibli film, it’s presented to US audiences by Disney. As such, it’s easy to see the full Disney treatment was given to the US localization. Voice talents include Will Arnett, Amy Poehler, and Carol Burnett. Leaving audiences with a solid and enjoyable production across the board.
In a word, mesmerizing. ‘The Secret World of Arriety’ is a beautifully told tale of innocence, adventure, and overcoming fear. While Pixar has cemented itself as champion of the seemingly endless wave of CGI animated films, the hand drawn title still belongs to Ghibli. So whether you’re a kid, an adult, or an adult looking to rekindle the exploratory spirits of youth, this is a gem of a film that should not be missed.
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