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….
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.
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.
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.
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 … more
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. … more
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 … more
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 … more
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.
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.