Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Genre: Animation, Adventure, Family
Opens locally Friday, February 17th, 2012
Run Time: 1 hour, 34 minutes, Rated G
Starring (Voice Talent): Bridgit Mendler, Will Arnett, Amy Poehler, Carol Burnett
Directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi (feature film debut)
The Secret World of Arrietty is a 2012 Japanese “anime” film that has finally made its way stateside. It is based on Mary Norton’s fantasy novel The Borrowers, and is animated by Studio Ghibli, whose 2002 animated film Spirited Away is the only non-English speaking film ever to win an Oscar for Best Animated Feature.
The “secret world” references a race of people known as “borrowers,” who are 4-inches tall and live within the walls of regular-sized human homes. The needs of the borrowers are minimal, and they have no greater hopes or aspirations than to live a quiet life and provide for their families. They sneak into the house at night to “borrow” simple necessities that us humans would never miss, like a cube of sugar or a tissue. They avoid being seen at all costs, and also avoid over-zealous cats, birds, and bugs as they try to maintain their homes deep within the walls of ours.
Arrietty is a young teenage borrower, who lives with her loving father Pod and worrisome mother Homily. She is an adventurous teen on the brink of her first “borrowing” mission, where dad is going to take her in for a borrow to teach her the craft. Though she tries to avoid being seen, a young boy spots her. Shawn is staying at this residence in the days leading up to a major surgery, and is a soft-spoken and loving young man. Seeing Arrietty peaks his curiosity and confirms the long-standing legend of the little people, whom he has heard all about from his deceased parents as a child. Shawn and Arrietty spark an unlikely friendship in the face of the troll-like housekeeper, Hara, who suspects that these little people exist too. Only difference is that she would like to see them eradicated.
I don’t recall a more simplistic, beautifully told, and touching story. It’s a refreshing detour from modern-day “family” fare, from the old-school animation to the innocence of the characters. Even by hearing who is behind the voices in the US version of the film – Amy Poehler, Will Arnett, and Carol Burnett – you would think that this would be a laugh-a-minute comedy. The Secret World of Arrietty is a serious, adult movie, told through the eyes of children. It’s the kind of family film that children should see, but it won’t be what they are used to.
As sweet as The Secret World of Arrietty is, there are a few slapstick scenes that seem shoe-horned into the film, and they come across as unfocused in the grand scheme of things. It feels at times very slick and self-important, often a touch too much. The film is easily digested, but is so light and fluffy that it ends up not being all that filling.
Still, there is a reason Disney picked up on this film and that it was released here in the states: It is a magnificent, inventive film. There are positive messages of friendship, family, and loyalty. Sure it’s a bit syrupy at times, but The Secret World of Arrietty is one of the most adult children’s movie I’ve seen in quite some time.
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