The Secret World of Arrietty

29 Feb

Title: The Secret World of Arrietty
Year: 2012
Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Writers: Hayao Miyazaki and Keiko Niwa, based on the novel by Mary Norton
Starring: Bridgit Mendler, David Henrie, Amy Poehler, Gracie Poletti, Moisés Arias, Will Arnett, Carol Burnett
MPAA Rating: G
Runtime: 94 min
IMDb Rating: 7.7
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
Metacritic: 80


Studio Ghibli is a film studio with one of the best reputations and records in the world, as well as one really dedicated fanbase. Founded in 1985 by the great Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata the Japanese studio has been releasing truly classic animated films that, though they are of course consumed rabidly in the Japanese market and abroad, haven’t really caught on commercially in the U.S., even though their critical reception is always pretty damn spotless, with the sublime Spirited Away winning the Best Animated Feature Oscar, the only film made outside of the English-speaking world to have done so, and Howl’s Moving Castle garnering a nomination for it. So yeah, this studio certainly has the goods, and its films, especially those made by Mr. Miyazaki, have some really great fanbases.

The Secret World of Arrietty is Studio Ghibli’s first released in the U.S. since Ponyo in 2010 (which I, quite unfortunately, have still to check out), and while it isn’t directed by Mr. Miyazaki, it was co-written by him, and certainly has his fingerprints all over it, with some seriously stunning visuals to go along with quite a lot of soul. And, as it’s usually the case with the films these guys give us, it’s not super kid-oriented and yet’s it’s a film that will be devoured by the whole family, I guarantee that; when I have kids I’ll show them Spirited Away before they turn thirteen, for sure. Oh and Amy Poehler and Will Arnett provide the voices for two characters in the English version of the film, so yeah, there’s another reason for you to go check this one out.

It’s just such a beautiful film that, while G-rated and totally great for kids to consume, will always offer up story-telling that’s more emotionally rich and sophisticated than most adult-oriented films, it’s a film with a soul that’s as pure as its animation. These are films that really deserve to find an audience in the U.S. outside of its niche audience, and Disney, who’s in charge of distribution stateside, are actually trying to get that to happen (releasing this one on nearly 50% more screen than they did Ponyo), and while the U.S. commercial results for this one have been better, it’s still a tough sell for American audiences. And that’s just a pity, the gorgeous hand-drawn animation with water-colored landscapes, the great female kid protagonists, these films needs to be seen by a wider audience.

One thing that really differentiates these films from those American audiences are more used to is that there’s no violence, and not any kind of traditional villain in the story; if conflicts arise they are resolved by means other than violence, and those conflicts come not from someone that has an evil agenda but from someone with some kind of misguided beliefs that just happen to clash with the ones of someone else. The film centers on a family of tiny people, “borrowers” they call themselves, who live beneath the floorboards of a country house inhabited by an elderly woman named Sadako and her caretaker Haru, voiced by Carol Burnett, from which they often “borrow” small stuff that she won’t really miss like a sugar cube or a pin.

Pod and Homily are the mom and dad, voiced by Will Arnett and Amy Poehler who are an incredibly awesome real-life couple, and Arrietty is their tenacious daughter. They’re not entirely sure if there are other borrowers around, and they live in isolation in that house when one day a sick boy named Shawn moves into the house to be taken care of by her aunt as he rests before a scheduled operation. Soon thereafter Arrietty has to go through a rite of passage, her first “borrowing” and during her excursion she is spotted by Shawn, which prompts her mom and dad to think it’s time for them to leave the house now that they’ve been made. And while Ms. Poehler does get a few comedic moments, Mr. Arnett plays it straight all through the film, the father that grounds his family in a moment of potential danger, and it really works.

It’s really magical what the imagination from the people at Studio Ghibli can give us, and even though there’s no element of magic in this film like in many of their other films, it’s still amazing to see the world through the eyes of these four-inch people, the smallest of things are seen in an entirely different light and used for great things in the hands of Arrietty and her family. Yes, it has a slow paced and much lower stakes in comparison to most animated films, but that means you can appreciate all the beautifully animated little details and immerse yourself in what life as someone like Arrietty would be, seeing ordinary stuff in such a large scale and so beautifully animated can be pretty breathtaking in this film.

I loved The Secret World of Arrietty, it really is a wonderful film done by one of the most inventice film studios in the world, and it proves that, while Mr. Miyazaki is very much its pillar and the guy that created this whole thing, they now have nurtured enough talent in his tradition of animation, themes and overall feel of his movies that whenever he leaves the company they will be more than capable of carrying it all out in the best of ways. But we’ll see to that when it comes to be, for now let’s just enjoy the perfectly nuanced film that we just got, able to take its time and just look at every small pleasure in life and make it look magical while introducing us to yet another memorable character.

Grade: A-


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