PLOT: Arrietty (Bridgit Mendler), a tiny, but tenacious 14-year-old, lives with her parents (Will Arnett and Amy Poehler) in the recesses of a suburban garden home, unbeknownst to the homeowner and her housekeeper (Carol Burnett). Like all little people, Arrietty 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 (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.
REVIEW: Fanboys and fangirls love Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. That’s fact. We love him in ways that transcend our usual tastes and preferences. Flicks like MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO, PRINCESS MONONOKE, HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE, PONYO and virtually every anime feature they’ve pumped out is, nine and a half times out of ten, spoken of only with reverence and appreciation. Rarely will you hear an ill word said of Miyazaki and Ghibli. They’re that good.
But I’m not going to pretend that I’m some expert in the field of anime. I’m not. I enjoy anime but don’t worship at the altar of it. No, I’m speaking completely from personal experience here. I’ve NEVER ran into someone who has hated a Studio Ghibli film. Never. Not once. And that’s kinda shocking to me because fanboys almost always have a stand-by complaint for everything. We as a culture are not capable of being complacent or fully satisfied. We must always rage against something, whether it be the machine or just the silliest little damn thing.
And we’re especially this way when it comes to animation studios. Disney is too mainstream, Dreamworks is too reliant on pop culture references, Blue Sky is too CG, Madhouse is too willy-nilly with the already-established mythos of their Marvel properties, Pixar is responsible for CARS 2, Sony Pictures Animation is responsible for THE SMURFS, Production IG is mostly toiling in television nowadays and …the list goes on and on. See how I had a complaint for all the studios I named? Every fanboy/girl is like that. Every. Last. One.
Except Miyazaki. We love him. You should too if you don’t already. Dude is master in the field of animation and everything he touches pretty much turns to gold. Gold-encrusted anime. The best you can get. Even the stuff he simply has a hand in but doesn’t directly direct himself is gold. That’s a tough trick to pull of. Most filmmakers usually start to waffle when they dip into producing (even the almighty John Lasseter of Pixar has a trilogy of CG direct-to-video TINKERBELL pics under his belt) or simply going for a screenwriting credit. But not Miyazaki.
Take, for instance, THE SECRET WORLD OF ARRIETTY. Longtime Miyazaki collaborator Hiromasa Yonebayashi actually directed this. Miyazaki himself only produced, wrote the script and helped with the character designs …which kinda explains why it feels so much like an actual Miyazaki pic. I didn’t even totally realize that it wasn’t one till the end credits rolled and I spotted Yonebayashi’s directing credit.
Don’t worry, this is a good thing. It shows that even his protégés have a deep respect for him. Yonebayashi knows that people come to see a Ghibli production because they want the Miyazaki style. They want the sweetness and grace that he brings to his films. And that’s exactly what he brings to the table here. He doesn’t showboat or bust the formula. He’s not trying to overtake the master with fancy CG bullsh*t and broad action-based storytelling. Dude gives the audience exactly what they came to see, doesn’t make a fool of himself while doing so and proves that even after Miyazaki retires (he’s been threatening to do so for quite some time now) there will always be someone capable of giving you a proper Ghibli hit.
Long story short: Yonebayashi impressed the hell out of me with ARRIETTY and I can’t wait to see what he does next.
I think the main reason I dug this pic (fanboy Miyazaki love aside) was because it was a small movie (both figuratively and literally) with a big heart. There wasn’t any abrasive plotting here. No overblown theatrics or unearned drama. All the plot beats and moments here were organic. Earned. Almost real life. Which is strange because this is a movie about a tiny little people who live inside the walls and occasionally venture out into the human-sized world to “borrow” things like sugar and tissue. That should be as far away from real as possible and yet this flick somehow manages to make it real.
Am I making sense? Probably not. I guess what I’m trying to say is that the characters in ARRIETTY are so fully realized that I never really thought of the situation as anything other than normal. I was 100% in from almost the first moment. I bought the idea of a little family living in the walls. I bought that biggest problems in their little lives were outrunning the cat (who is pretty much Godzilla-sized to them) and keeping hidden from the Beans (their slang word for humans). And I totally bought the idea that a teenage girl (no matter what size) would spend almost every waking moment dreaming of seeing the outside world and having someone to talk to other than her parents.
I mean, seriously, little girl has never spoken to anyone other than her parents. She’s never actually met any other “Borrowers”. Do you blame her for wanting to strike up a friendship with the young boy who accidentally spotted her on her first night of “borrowing”? I don’t. Hell, I’m shocked it took her till then to talk to the Beans. Would’ve figured, as feisty as she is, that bridge would’ve been crossed years ago.
But I don’t want to blow anything for you. I’m not a fan of spoiling movies that I absolutely adored. If I hate a flick, I’ll spoil the hell out of it. Won’t even think twice. After all, I don’t you want you wasting you’re money on it like I did. I’m, in essence, doing a public service by giving sh*t to bad films and leaning you away from them. But this isn’t one of those cases. THE SECRET WORLD OF ARRIETTY is a gorgeous (in all aspects) film loaded with beautiful hand-drawn Ghibli animation (which some brain-dead blockhead at the showing AngieBee and I attended complained wasn’t “computer graphic’d enough” -- actual wording there --- and “sucked coz it wasn’t real Dizney”) and confident characterizations.
If there’s a beef to be had here it would be that the heads at Disney (who are simply operating in a distribution capacity here) decided to “tweak” it for US audiences. Not much but definitely noticeable. There’s a bit of narration towards the end (designed to give the movie a clearly happy ending rather than a happily ambiguous one) and a song from Disney starlet Bridgit Mendler over the credits. I guess the narration is kinda okay but the song is grossly inappropriate. Feel free to ignore it and weep for the soulless bastard at the Mouse House who ordered up a half-assed “Americanization” of something that didn’t need it. Complaint over.
THE SECRET WORLD OF ARRIETTY (which, for find the plot synopsis a little familiar, is the latest in a long line of film adaptations of Mary Norton’s THE BORROWERS) is a little film with a big heart. Give it a chance if you’re in the mood for something special. And if you haven’t discovered Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli yet, let this be your intro into a world well worth visiting.