Courtesy of STUDIO GHIBLI
Outside of Disney and Pixar, there aren’t many choices for animation fans in the U.S.
But head over to Japan, and you’ll find Studio Ghibli, an animation goliath that has been producing quality films since the 1980s. If you’re skeptical about the quality of an anime movie, you can be assured that it’s not just anime, it’s art.
Ghibli’s newest release, “The Secret World of Arrietty,” is based on the 1952 novel “The Borrowers” by Mary Norton and is the directorial debut of Hiromasa Yonebayashi. Ghibli injects the charming-yet-dated plot with some modern sensibilities and feminist undertones. (Many of the Ghibli films often feature a strong female protagonist.)
“The Secret World of Arrietty” tells the story of Arrietty and her family, a group of small people who are only about 10 centimeters tall. They dub themselves “Borrowers,” because they borrow small items to survive, like tissues or sugar cubes, things humans wouldn’t miss.
Arrietty (Bridget Mendler) is a strong-willed and free-spirited girl who longs to join her father, Pod (Will Arnett), in his quests into the real world, against the wishes of her anxious mother, Homily (Amy Poehler). One day, as she ventures out to try to borrow something on her own, she is spotted by a new human boy moving into the house, Shawn (David Henrie).
The film deals expertly with themes of free will and fate, as well as the loss of childhood innocence. The plot focuses much on the plight of Shawn, a sickly and lonely boy sent by his neglectful parents to live in the country to better his health. While there, he tries to befriend to Arrietty.
Shawn’s sickly condition leads him to become extremely depressed and accepting of his oncoming death, but Arrietty, who is naturally a fighter and survivor, tries to convince him otherwise. There are some incredibly poignant moments dealing with Shawn’s condition and with Shawn’s family, though his relatives go mostly unseen.
The characters in the film are incredibly multilayered and well drawn, with the exception of Hara (Carol Burnett), the antagonistic housekeeper who has a vendetta against the Borrowers.
Arrietty seems to start off as the typical stereotype of the free-spirited heroine but develops as she is exposed to the world- to the good and the bad.
Amy Poehler is hilariously energetic as Homily, giving a panicked and dedicated performance.
And Will Arnett’s low growl of a voice is perfectly suited to the stoic and cool Pod.
The beauty of this film lies in the animation, of course. The settings are incredibly detailed and vibrant, enhancing the film because of the minuscule size of the protagonists. The animation is as breathtaking as many Ghibli movies, although it seems that less attention was spent on the designs of the characters than on the settings and landscapes.
Still, the close-ups of the characters brought out much of the subtle emotion and successfully expressed their thoughts to the audience.
“The Secret World of Arrietty” puts much stake in the beauty of silence. There are many pensive and quiet moments that allow the viewer to concentrate on the animation and just take a respite from the fast-paced animation.
“Arrietty” is a return to form for Ghibli after rather weak releases like “Tales from Earthsea” and “Ponyo.” The film offers poignancy and subtlety to the story to an extent that is not often seen in American animated films. It places great value in the importance of the appreciation of life.