Wednesday, February 22, 2012

'The Secret World of Arrietty' Review

The wait for Arriety to arrive in North America has taken quite awhile; after releasing in Japan, and even Europe quite awhile back, Disney has finally brought it over to this side of the ocean, and with a new dubbed cast that's different from the European one. Having finally seen the film on opening day last Friday, I can easily recommend it to any fans of Studio Ghibli's work. But if you're expecting Arriety to have the epic scope of Ghibli films like Princess Mononoke or Spirited Away, I'd advise you to lower your expectations. Arriety is a much... smaller affair... An intimate little film more along the lines of My Neighbor Totoro. There's still plenty of wonder and imagination at work here, and an entirely charming cast of characters, and of course the main star that most fans adore is ever present... which is the background artwork of nature, trees, flowers and natural scenery, as well as homely homes that Studio Ghibli is so good at! The main trick this time is seeing how well the creators thought out what life would be like for these little people in a big world!

The lovable things to notice in the film are how everyday mundane objects, like nails, buttons, thimbles, needles, scotch tape, and wire etc. is taken and refashioned to become stairways, bridges, tools, cutlery, and all kinds of utilities for beings who can fit into the palm of your hand! Attention to environmental details and their behavior such as drops of water, rustling leaves, and other forces of nature from the perspective of these little ones is entirely fascinating! Like a whole new world that exists within the very same world you inhabit! Animators and artists will love to notice all these subtle details and items that are scattered amongst the home and surroundings of Arriety's family. Also of interest to layout artists will be seeing everyday environments such as bedrooms and kitchens and gardens from the unique perspectives of Arriety and her family. Just entering a living room will seem like a trip to the grand canyon! Not to mention all the insects, grasshoppers, beetles, ladybugs and other creepy crawlies drawn in Ghibli's style that are fun to spot. And of course typical animals such as cats and birds and mice get their share of screen time too. From anywhere you look at it, the artistry involved in the film, from its design to its animation, is everything you'd expect from a top studio like Ghibli.

The story however, will depend on your expectations. As I'd mentioned before it is not an epic tale with all the twists and turns and excitement or scope and exploration you'd come to expect from works like Princess Mononoke or Spirited Away; nor even say... every Pixar film... The movie doesn't get more adventurous than it needs to. The story essentially involves Arrietty, a small Thumbelina-sized girl and her mother and father who inhabit a particular house. They survive by being 'borrowers', by essentially going through the homes of human beings and taking items of food and other necessities, and sometimes not-so-necessaries they might fancy, to eat and make clothes and build a home for themselves. They avoid taking anything that will arouse the suspicion of normal sized human beings in order to protect themselves. As it turns out, relations between these tiny people and regular sized people has not been very good in the past... However, one day a young boy comes to stay at his grandmother's place to rest before a big operation for his weak heart condition. While there Arrietty gets careless on a borrowing trip, and he discovers her! Highly intrigued by stories his mother use to tell him about the little people, the boy tries to make friends with Arrietty, promising not to hurt her or tell anyone about their existence. Arriety knows the boy is kind, but she is also cautious and is torn between wanting to be close to the boy and also heeding her parent's warnings about contact with these giant people.

The essentials of the story are about crossing this divide of trust and friendship and even of family as the boy's distant parents are contrasted to that of Arrietty's own along with his weak lifestyle contrasted to that of Arrietty's own adventurous and lively one. The common theme viewers are familiar with in Hayao Miyazaki's own work is also present here with regards to strong protrayals of young female characters and also of maturing and growing up. Arrietty's director is Hiromasa Yonebayashi, a Studio Ghibli and Production I.G. veteran on many titles, the most recent ones being 'From Up on Poppy Hill' and 'Ponyo' where he was a key animator. Arrietty is the first animated feature he has story-boarded and directed, and it has come out remarkably well! A great addition to the grand Studio Ghibli library!

The English dub by Disney is top notch work as usual. And the foley work that creates the sound for this film ought to be highlighted! Definately one film you'd want to take advantage of with surround sound, and a good amount of work and SFX has gone into creating the natural world heard from the tiny ears of Arrietty! I couldn't tell you much about the music as it didn't stand out to me too well... it's certainly no Joe Hisaishi, but I looked up the composer and was surprised to discover that it was a French composer, Cecile Corbel. If you'd like to know more about her and how she got the job, you can read a neat article about that here.

This film is now playing in theaters, and Disney has given it a good wide release! So head on over and support the rare traditionally animated films that come out! If you love what you see, why not head over to our store where you can check out the newly released 'Art of the Secret World of Arrietty' artbook that will give you a more in-depth look at the work and thought processes that when on behind this film! It's definitely one of the better Studio Ghibli artbooks with plenty of cool reference! Now I'm off to go finally catch the little man who lives in my fridge that turns the light off and on whenever I open and close it!