The Secret World of Arrietty

Cast:
Bridgit Mendler as Arrietty
Will Arnett as Pod
David Henrie as Shawn
Amy Poehler as Homily
Moises Arias as Spiller
Carol Burnett as Hara

Directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi and Gary Rydstrom

Summary:
“The Secret World of Arrietty” features stunning animation and a great U.S. voice cast, but a lack of fantasy elements and a weak ending make it one of my less favorite Studio Ghibli films. Still, it’s very much worth checking out with the family.

Story:
This film is based on the book “The Borrowers” by Mary Norton.

Little known to most humans, there is a race of tiny beings called ‘Borrowers’ living within the walls of our houses. However, their numbers are dwindling. Arrietty is a 14-year-old Borrower living underneath a house with her mother Homily and her father Pod. Adventurous and brave, Arrietty is ready to go on her first borrowing mission with her father. But now living in the house is a new young human named Shawn. And when Shawn discovers that Arrietty and her family are living there, their world will be turned upside down.

“The Secret World of Arrietty” is rated G.

What Worked:
As with all Studio Ghibli films, one of the highlights of the movie is the animation. They prove yet again that 2D animation can be as beautiful and engaging as any computer animated animation. With “The Secret World of Arrietty,” we are treated to stunningly beautiful backgrounds of the outdoor garden. The paintings are absolutely filled with detail and seeing it on the big screen allows you to take it all in. You see every flower bloom, every blade of grass, and every bug. Then there are the characters themselves. The cat, the humans, and even the bugs are incredibly expressive. The emotion and personality of the characters really come through the 2D artwork.

Another highlight of “The Secret World of Arrietty” is seeing how the Borrowers turn human objects into tools for their own use. We see Pod take tape and use it as mountain climbing devices on his hands and feet. We see Arrietty use stamps as artwork for her walls. We see them both use nails as stairs and ladders. It’s all incredibly creative. And when you throw the little characters into the massive human world, it makes even borrowing a cube of sugar and a tissue a breathtaking adventure.

While “The Secret World of Arrietty” lacks the big names in the voice cast that some of the other adaptations have had, they make up for star power with characterization. All of the U.S. voice actors really bring their characters to life. Bridgit Mendler leads the cast as Arrietty. She’s a Disney teen starlet from the TV show “Good Luck Charlie,” but she really shows a knack for voice work here. She makes Arrietty spunky yet shy, bold yet obedient to her parents (mostly), and adventurous yet cautious. She’s joined by Amy Poehler as Homily. Poehler brings a lot of life to the kooky mother even within the constraints of the already set Japanese animation. Poehler takes the animators’ work to the next level. Her real-life husband Will Arnett joins her as her character’s husband Pod. He’s much more reserved in his role, but that’s what the animation called for. Still, his deep voice gives nobility to the character which is exactly what he needed. Then Carol Burnett plays the housekeeper Hara. Burnett also does a great job bringing the right amount of niceness and craziness to the housekeeper.

I took three kids to this film – two boys under 10 and a 12-year-old girl. All three loved it and my wife and I were engaged by it, too. This is a family film worth checking out.

What Didn’t Work:
Anyone familiar with Studio Ghibli films expects a lot of fantasy elements in the movie. And while “The Secret World of Arrietty” features tiny people living in walls, it’s one of the least fanciful films they have offered. There are no cat buses, no flying pigs, no spirits, and no fish girls. It’s not as ‘out there’ as Ghibli’s other work. So, to a small degree, it’s kind of a letdown.

The story also ends kind of weakly. I don’t want to spoil it here, but I’ll say it concludes at the same leisurely, safe pace that the rest of the story unfolds on. I haven’t read the book or seen the 1997 live action film starring John Goodman for comparison, but it felt like it needed a little more “Oomph.” But seeing as how Hayao Miyazaki wrote the screenplay, who am I to tell him what to do.

The Bottom Line:
While not my favorite Studio Ghibli film, I think “The Secret World of Arrietty” is well worth checking out with the rest of the family.

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