The Secret World of Arrietty, the latest Studio Ghibli feature film distributed by Disney, continues to prove why the acclaimed studio has stood atop the mountain of Japanese animation for nearly three decades.
The film is adapted from Mary Norton’s novel The Borrowers and tells the story of a family of tiny people who live under the floorboards of a typical Japanese household and the struggles they encounter as they are discovered by the outside world. Like most Ghibli productions, this film will appeal to kids and adults. Unlike many American animated features, this film entirely tells its story through its gentle and understated atmosphere. The remarkable score, composed by French singer Cecile Corbel, goes a long way in setting the tone. A notable fact is that Arrietty was not helmed by legendary director and animator Hayao Miyazaki. Instead, it was directed by Hirosama Yonebayashi while Miyazaki wrote the screenplay. Yonebayashi has worked on a number of classic Ghibli features so there isn’t any discernable difference in the quality of the film.
Originally released in 2010, it was the highest grossing Japanese film of that year. It opened in American theaters on Feb. 17 and has grossed over $141,063, 479 worldwide.
Those familiar with Ghibli’s work will recognize a few of their longstanding traditions. Of course, there is a female lead character, Arrietty (voiced by Good Luck Charlie’s Bridgit Mendler), and the painterly hand-drawn animation, which continues to set Ghibli apart from just about every animation studio in the world. For animation quality alone there is unlikely to be a better film released this year.
Unlike American animation, the meat of the story doesn’t revolve around a good vs. evil concept, but it focuses on the friendship Arrietty develops with a 12-year old human boy named Sho–who is voiced by David Hernie of Wizards of Waverly Place fame. There is plenty of tense action, but the film doesn’t really focus on that aspect. More important, there are plenty of heartwarming moments. A key scene involving Sho confessing his heart ailment to Arrietty is genuinely touching.
The lone criticism I’ve seen in other reviews is that the film was too short and doesn’t contain more of the elaborate animation sequences or plot resolutions that Ghibli films are famous for. It clocks in at just over 90 minutes, but the film is fine paced and I felt like it served its purpose by the time the ending credits rolled.
I’d highly recommend this film to any person curious about anime. While there is a lot of junk out there, Arrietty shows the very best of what the medium is capable of delivering. It’s a movie the entire family can enjoy. And if you really like it then consider checking out other Ghibli films (Spirited Away, Kiki’s Delivery Service and Ponyo are tremendous) available on DVD. You can find all of these and more on Netflix, Amazon or e-Bay.