Review: The Secret World of Arrietty

— by ADAM DALE —

Known for such international hits such as “Spirited Away,” “Howl’s Moving Castle” and “Ponyo,” Studio Ghibli has teamed up with director Hiromasa Yonebayashi to bring another intriguing and visually-beautiful animated tale to the big screen with “The Secret World of Arrietty.”

Based on the Mary Norton 1952 classic children’s tale “The Borrowers” and matched with a radiant Japanese animation style, the film has already been a hit the world over. Now, Walt Disney Pictures has chosen to take the film and give it an American director and voice cast for its release in the United States. Can this timeless tale of a forbidden friendship impress American audiences as much as it did in Japan?

Arrietty (Bridget Mendler) is a seemingly normal 14 year-old girl who lives at home with her parents, Homily (Amy Poehler) and Pod (Will Arnett). She is an adventurous young woman and has recently been taking an interest in her father’s line of work. However, she isn’t a normal girl, she is just a few inches tall an lives under the floorboards of a house.

Arrietty and her family are “borrowers.” They are tiny people who take little things that won’t be missed from the humans to survive. And now that Arrietty has reached the right age, she is going out on her first borrowing expedition with her father. But when a mission to get a sugar cube goes awry and Arrietty is accidentally seen by a boy upstairs, their lives and home are in danger. The first rule of being a borrower is never to be seen and if you are seen you must move to stay safe. The young boy, Shawn (David Henrie), has recently moved to the house to live with his aunt and an inquisitive house keeper named Hara (Carol Burnett) to rest up before a very important surgery.

The curiosity of both Arrietty and Shawn lead them to seeking each other out and the the two form an improbable bond. Arrietty just wants to learn more about the humans who she has been told her whole life are extremely dangerous and Shawn just wants to protect his little friend. When Hara starts searching around, she decides that maybe the old fables she has heard about the “little people” living under the floors may be true and she begins to suspect Shawn knows something about them. When Arrietty’s mother is captured by Hara, Shawn sets out on a mission to help his friend and her family escape the clutches of Hara and her devious plans for the small family.

In the tradition of Studio Ghibli, “The Secret World of Arrietty” is a wonderful fantasy, full of luscious visuals and a tale of courage and heart. The one departure from previous films is that it is more natural and less supernatural. It is a pretty bright movie filled with luminescent watercolors and less darkness. This film is an adventure on a much smaller scale, but when you’re two inches tall, getting up the leg of a kitchen table is made to seem like climbing a mountain. You really feel a connection to Arrietty and the plight of her parents, just trying to simply survive on scraps and items that the humans won’t miss. There are themes in the film that include friendship, love, trust and acceptance. There is even a conversation about Arrietty and her family being the last of their kind and when they are gone the borrowers will be extinct.

The voice casting for the movie is fitting, with a cast of voices that are recognizable but giving them slight inflections to associate them with Japanese culture. Bridget Mendler and David Henrie are our two main characters on whose relationship the movie rests on and they work together wonderfully. As always, the hysterical Amy Poehler and Will Arnett are quite the couple and pull off the necessary emotions needed from each of them. The one surprise casting for me was Carol Burnett, who will always be zany and funny in my mind, but really manages to be alarmingly mischievous and dark in the film as Hara. Another smaller role in the film, played by Moises Arias, is Spiller, a wild borrower who lives out in nature and has a somewhat rugged charm to him. Spiller helps them escape the house and look for a new home.

In all, “The Secret World of Arrietty” is not the best film from the studio, but that might be because it is a reincarnation of a classic story and not an original one. However, it is beautiful and charming. “The Secret World of Arrietty” is a film that the entire family can enjoy and one that your children will likely want to see again and again. It is nice to see a traditional hand-drawn animation film crafted with such care when 3D animation is the new standard in today’s family films. Needless to say, even though the film’s heroine is tiny in nature, she is enormous in heart and so is the film.

Rated G, “The Secret World of Arrietty” will sneak its way into theaters Feb. 17.

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