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The Secret World of Arrietty

A Japanese Anime film directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi (original Japanese release) and Gary Rydstrom (U.S. release)

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Amazing, Enchanting, Mesmerizing Japanese Anime about a very little Girl and a Young Boy....

  • Feb 18, 2012
A few years ago, Disney bought the distribution rights to several of Studio Gibli’s creations. I was ecstatic since it would mean that Studio Gibli’s animated films would have better access to U.S. shores but at the same time, I was also hesitant since I was afraid that they would not include the original Japanese language track, and if they did, it would not be the default language in the dvd releases (no 5.1 Dolby usually). Well, seems like director Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s “The Secret World of Arrietty is two years too late, and the film had been dubbed in English for its theatrical release. I understand the former since it is aimed for general audiences, but I am still puzzled why it took almost 2 years for this delightful film to be released in the U.S. (perhaps it is because of the dubbing they needed to do?)

The film’s premise is based on the novel by Mary Norton “The Borrowers” and so if you’ve read the book, then you would know exactly what the film is all about. I have seen the Disney release in theaters and no disrespect to the original Japanese voice cast, but I would have to review the film based on what I have seen in theaters (I do prefer my anime in the original Japanese language). It follows a family who are a few inches tall and the adventure of a girl called Arrietty (Bridgit Mendler) who had recently turned 14; as such she needs to be taught by her father (Will Arnett) and mother (Amy Poehler) how to survive in this seemingly gigantic world inhabited by humans (whom they call “Beans”). The family survives by borrowing things they need from the human household and life is quiet and uneventful. But when an ailing young boy named Shawn (David Henrie) moves in, Arrietty appears curious about how things does work around the house. The two begin an uneasy friendship, which may prove to be disastrous to the two adjoining different worlds….

                      Arrietty and Shawn in "The Secret World of Arrietty.''                    

The film was planned and the screenplay was co-written by Hayao Miyazaki who is known for “Princess Mononoke”, “Ponyo” and “Spirited Away”. As such, fans of his work would know exactly how well structured and smooth his storytelling skills really are, and “Arrietty“ is just another proof how good he is in rendering animated features. Together with director Hiromasa Yonebasyashi, the two have created a world that is magical, interesting and delightful that is fit for viewers of all ages. Japanese Anime have always been successful in expressing that an animated film does not need fancy CGI animation to enthrall an audience, but rather, it is the depth of storytelling that would really matter.

What Miyazaki does well is the way he writes in subtle and yet strong moral messages that are valuable for everyone. We all know him for his environmental themes, but this time around, he does something a little different. Themes of friendship, sharing and persecution abound, but nothing was more stronger than the moral message of ‘reaching out’ and to learn how respect can instill knowledge by meeting the unknown with open arms. Arrietty and Shawn represent this message, and I was amazed as to how the direction showed restraint that it never became ‘preachy’. The film also doesn't sugar coat, as it was bold enough to admit that such things may always be beyond reach; and yet, the actions of one or two individuals can indeed bridge the gap between two different worlds (or lifestyles). The film was strong in its themes of ‘teamwork’ and how different people from different origins can have different things to offer to the world.

                        Arrietty voiced by Bridgit Mender in "The Secret World of Arrietty."

                        Arrietty in "The Secret World of Arrietty.''

That is not all that the film made a subtle commentary on. Jessica (based on Aunt Sophy, voiced by Gracie Poletti) shared a touching story as to how people can be laughed upon but one needs to stand tall and open their arms in friendship. Hara (Geraldine McEvan) represented the human flaw of fearing what they do not understand, as she becomes the film’s light antagonist in a manner of speaking. What the film does so well is how it was able to mesh the character’s dimensions with its themes all the while allowing them to drive the story. The screenplay was delightful and engrossing; I could really not see any flaw despite some small deviations from the novel.

The animation work was stunning. The film was just so colorful and yet, it wasn’t so radiant that it may feel a little too bright. The atmosphere was perfect to its premise. Many of Studio Gibli’s family films have the look that reflects that of a coloring-story book, and this film is no different. The subtle use of some CGI images enhanced the 2D cell animation. I truly felt the magnificence of the world as seen through Arrietty’s eyes; it was magical and truly enchanting as the direction was able to make simple things feel huge in her world. Hiromasa was able to create a world filled with potential peril and expresses every corner of this world. It does make one wonder just what happened to some stuff we had lost.

                           Arrietty voiced by Bridgit Mendler in "The Secret World of Arrietty."

Amazingly the American voice cast was very good. I wasn’t too impressed with the American dubbing of “Ponyo”, but this time around, American voice direction was spot on. It was a wonder that every release of this film had a different voice cast for the U.K., Korea and the U.S.. For a film made for Japanese viewers, there were no synching issues, and the voice talent was excellent in expressing this film’s drama and adventure. The soundtrack was also very fitting to the premise. I guess Disney did a great job transitioning this anime film after all.

I suppose you can tell with the length of my review that I truly enjoyed this film. I would have to say that I would love to see this film again in its original Japanese language and perhaps there would be hidden Easter eggs in its coming bluray/Dvd release. I would see this film again, as Studio Gibli has hit a homerun after the less than stellar “Ponyo”. Seems like even with Miyazaki not being in the director’s chair, would not hurt this animation studio at all, Hiromasa has the skill to helm a Miyazaki screenplay. It is so refreshing to see a major/acclaimed/ talented director like Hayao Miyazaki make way for new talent.

Highly Recommended! [4 ½ Out of 5 Stars]

   Poster art for "The Secret World of Arriety." 

Arrietty and Homily in "The Secret World of Arrietty.''

Shawn voiced by David Henrie and Arrietty voiced by Bridgit Mendler in "The Secret World of Arrietty."

Pod voiced by Will Arnett and Arrietty voiced by Bridgit Mendler in "The Secret World of Arrietty."

Haru voiced by Carol Burnett in "The Secret World of Arrietty."

Amazing, Enchanting, Mesmerizing Japanese Anime About A Very Little Girl and a Young Boy.... Amazing, Enchanting, Mesmerizing Japanese Anime About A Very Little Girl and a Young Boy....

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April 17, 2013
Great review, I loved this film so much. I'm glad they didn't Ponyo it by making the story this big world ending thing when really its just a simple story of friendship. The story is small, simple, yet powerful and with wonderful characters. A great, great film, and a good write up.
April 17, 2013
thanks! Did you review this by any chance? I was going to see FROM UP POPPY HILL (co-written by Hayao Miyazaki) and directed by his son two weekends ago, but I did not like the theater it was playing at. His son's EARTHSEA wasn't that great but this one was supposedly good.
March 03, 2012
Sounds enchanting! Certainly the only review out of your recent enchantment with the darker side that I could picked out to read! :p Looks like you've been "haunted" regularly, LOL!
March 03, 2012
LMAO! Well, I try to mix everything up. I reviewed the LORAX recently. I am trying to get out of the darker side for a bit! LOL! How have you been?
February 24, 2012
I'll wait for this puppy to go on DVD and Blu-ray. This looks like a really promising title, especially since I think so much anime in the last 3-4 years downright sucks.
March 03, 2012
It is hard to miss with Studio Gibli. :)
February 23, 2012
Yay! I was waiting for your review on this. I saw this trailer and thought it looked like a great flick. Now, after reading your review- I'll have to get my intro to anime on ;p
February 24, 2012
I have to say, I really did enjoy this film! Have you seen Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away?
February 24, 2012
Nope, I've never seen any anime!
February 23, 2012
I was questioning this movie but after reading your review I consider watching it as soon as possible. Thanks for the insight.
February 24, 2012
Thanks, Julian.
February 20, 2012
Wonderful write-up and great pictures too !
February 20, 2012
This movie was excellent! You should take your family to see it.
February 20, 2012
I agree.
February 20, 2012
Sounds great man, excellent review, very well written.
February 20, 2012
Thanks, man. I dropped another anime movie review. If this was an excellent adventure-drama, the other one is just outrageously rendered that it was very different.
February 20, 2012
Disney's relationship of two decades with Studio Ghibli has been mostly amicable, but never especially urgent - even when trans-Pacific buzz surrounding Mononoke rose to a fever pitch, Disney's sluggish paucity of ambition (via Miramax) to distribute the film stateside resulted in a U.S. release date well over two years following that of the Japanese premiere. Spirited Away's success has hastened subsequent releases slightly, but I expect to wait for at least another year before From up on Poppy Hill is screened anywhere in North America.

I'd no complaints concerning Arrietty's American dub, but a cursory overview of the Japanese dialogue clearly indicates that it's much better. Both the Japanese DVD and Blu-ray have been available for months, and if you care to preview it before purchasing either or one of Disney's discs, a few good torrents of Japanese and Chinese origins are active to sate your appetite in the meantime.

Takahata and the Miyazakis inevitably and deservedly enjoy the lion's share of Ghibli's stellar reputation, but Hiroyuki Morita's sole directoral effort with Ghibli is too often overlooked: The Cat Returns is easily among their very best feature pictures.

What of Ponyo did you dislike? After Tales from Earthsea, it felt a breath of salty fresh air!
February 20, 2012
"From Up the Poppy Hill" is something to wait for. I think once told me that there is a copy floating around, but the subtitles aren't that good. Not sure if this rumor was true.

Thanks for the details on those. I saw a copy of the Japanese region-2 bluray and the price was outrageous. I have to say I have missed "the Cat Returns", I guess I have to hunt that down.

"Ponyo" was....alright it has been years since I saw it last, and yes, it was better than "Earthsea", but there was something about Ponyo's dubbing that really didn't do it for me. I liked the Japanese version, but I suppose there was something about the screenplay that lacked, I feel that it limited itself. I wrote a review on it before, but it wasn't one of my best ones.
February 19, 2012
I remember reading "The Borrowers" years ago and thought it was fascinating. I think I'd enjoy this - the story line and your description of lessons learned along with the wonderful and colorful animation would interest me. Thanks for sharing Woo!
February 19, 2012
This was ah-mazing! Studio Gibli is truly Japan's best studio for this kind of stuff. Have you seen "Spirited Away", winner of the best animated movie (acing Pixar during that year?)?
February 19, 2012
No I didn't see it - geez I need to catch up on some of these fascinating animated movies!!!! I love great animation....thanks Will!!
February 20, 2012
Thanks Frank!! I'll have to check these out for sure; and I appreciate you giving me a list!!
March 25, 2012
seen this yet, Brenda? Brandi would love this one!
March 26, 2012
No I haven't - but I know Brandi would love it--and me too for that matter. Thanks for reminding me about this one!!
More The Secret World of Arrietty reviews
review by . April 18, 2013
posted in ASIANatomy
My love for Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli know no bounds. With each film they manage to capture the magic, the art, and the heart that make films great. Even what I consider their weaker films, such as Ponyo or Kiki’s Delivery Service are good films and always leave me smiling and happy (well, with the exception of Tales From Earthsea). The Secret World of Arrrietty is no exception, and in many ways I believe serves as an example of one of their better films.  It’s not as grandiose …
review by . May 25, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
The Secret World of Arietty isn't exactly a new film.  Like many Studio Ghibli films it was released in Japan long before it was brought here to US Shores.  But also like so many of those films it is very heartwarming and takes it's audience pretty seriously.  It's an enchanting film.  It has a couple of strange things that keep it from being perfect, but it's definitely close to that.      The movie focuses on Arietty and her parents.  …
review by . February 17, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
Animator Hiromasa Yonebayashi's directorial debut hasn't the compelling novelty of Hayao Miyazaki's classics nor the dramatic rigor of Isao Takahata's contributions to the Studio Ghibli canon, but its reflective ambiance and technical merit warrants the venerated animation studio's imprimatur.      Though here transposed by Miyazaki's script to Japanese setting and idiom, admirers of Mary Norton's The Borrowers won't find a better adaptation in …
review by . February 18, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
Star Rating:         Perhaps I’m just artistically deficient, but I find the look of anime unappealing. It’s not the backgrounds so much as the characters, especially their faces, many of which are drawn according to a fixed iconography that essentially cuts corners in the ways of expression. You see this with their mouths, which may adequately put forth smiles or frowns but consistently fail to suggest the illusion of vowel sounds, which are more complex …
Quick Tip by . February 14, 2012
posted in ASIANatomy
Studio Gibli made this movie....'nuff said. Any anime fan knows how good they are.      Based on the story "The Borrowers"....I wish they were showing this in the original Japanese Language.      See Full Review Here.     
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About this movie


  • Opened February 17, 2012 | Runtime:1 hr. 35 min.
  • G
  • Arrietty (voice of Bridgit Mendler), a tiny, but tenacious 14-year-old, lives with her parents (voices of Will Arnett and Amy Poehler) in the recesses of a suburban garden home, unbeknownst to the homeowner and her housekeeper (voice of Carol Burnett). Like all little people, Arrietty (AIR-ee-ett-ee) remains hidden from view, except during occasional covert ventures beyond the floorboards to “borrow” scrap supplies like sugar cubes from her human hosts. But when 12-year-old Shawn (voice of David Henrie), a human boy who comes to stay in the home, discovers his mysterious housemate one evening, a secret friendship blossoms. If discovered, their relationship could drive Arrietty’s family from the home and straight into danger.
  • Cast: Bridgit Mendler, Amy Poehler, Will Arnett, Carol Burnett, David Henrie, Moisés Arias
  • Director: Gary Rydstrom
  • Genres: Action/Adventure, Animated,/Fantasy
  •  Poster art for "The Secret World of Arriety."
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    Genre: Adventure, Animation, Drama, Fantasy
    Release Date: 2010.7.17 (Japan), 2010.9.9 (South Korea), 2010.11.30 (France), 2010.12.25 (Hong Kong), 2011.7.29 (UK), 2012.2.12 (Australia), 2012.2.17 (USA, Canada)
    MPAA Rating: G
    Screen Writer: Hayao Miyazaki
    Runtime: 94 minutes
    Studio: Studio Ghibli, Buena Vista Home Entertainment, Dentsu, Hakuhodo DY Media Partners, Mitsubishi Shoji, Nippon Television Network Corporation (NTV), Toho Company, Walt Disney Company
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