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The Secret World of Arrietty

Been sitting on this one for a little while. Time to reflect on the latest stateside Ghibli release. I hope using these images counts as fair use.

Karigurashi no Arrietty poster
The Secret World of Arrietty

I’m probably going to get some flack from my more well-read friends because I never read books when I was a child, but this latest film from Japan’s Studio Ghibli is based on The Borrowers by Mary Norton. I would probably not know this book even exists if it weren’t for this film adaptation. I don’t want it to sound like I’m bragging about my ignorance, this is a fault of mine, not something to be proud of. That said, I don’t feel like I’m going to jump in on any ‘children’s novels’ any time soon. Not that there’s anything wrong with those, just doesn’t seem like my cup of tea. If you’re out there reading this, and you’re a fan of The Borrowers, maybe you can change my mind. All I can say is, good luck.

So, while I can’t really talk about the source material, and I don’t feel like I can really talk about the film as it was originally intended (more on that in a second), I can talk about the film I saw, The Secret World of Arrietty, released by Disney.

Before I get too far into it, I want to just say that the film is good, and it’s worth seeing on the big screen while you can. Even if you’re like me, and can’t stand dubbed movies, it’s still worth your money. I mean, check this out.

A background of the garden house seen in all versions of Arrietty.
If that's not more detailed than your dreams, then you must be on some good drugs.

Backgrounds like that are reason enough to see this movie in a proper theater, and the movie is filled with them. Also, even with the dub, the sound design on this film is amazing. I don’t often hear about sound design when it comes to Ghibli films, but it’s every bit as wonderful as those painted backgrounds. Go see, and hear it.

Now that I’ve got that out of the way, let me talk about some specifics.

I noticed this problem of mine as the movie started. I get cynical when I see previews and the pre-show ‘entertainment.’ Especially when it involves child-targeted advertising, and even more especially when I see something with my peers. Part of it is well deserved. I mean, how can you watch this, and not get offended? You’d have to be >5 years old, that’s the only way I can imagine. And when you go to the movies, especially Disney movies, even though the audience for a film made by Ghibli or even Pixar is probably larger than the >5 demographic, you’re just bombarded by ads like that. There’s something about being my age seeing ads like that, that make you just be snarky and cynical. And maybe that’s okay, most of these ads totally deserve it.

But eventually, the movie you came to see will actually start. You have to try to remember to shut that shit off. I don’t always do that. I realized this as the title cards were coming up…but I worry I realized it too late. Even if I did realize it, I’m not sure if it’s something I can just turn off.

Arriety & Spiller
This picture is not actually in the movie.

In typical Ghibli fashion, this film has a complex tone that shifts dramatically and masterfully. As was pointed out to me a while back, it goes from quiet to frightful to comedic in a 30 second window, and it’s all natural. The maid woman is especially crazy/awesome with her expressions/motivations.

Maid lady
I'm sure this maid character has a name, but I forget now. Oh spoiler alert, the borrowers get discovered by the human beans.

Now, I saw the American English dub, so I can’t really comment on the original Japanese or even the British dub, but the voices in the US version aren’t terrible, but they have some issues. Firstly, the dad, I guess his name is Pod, has this kind of gravely, Batman/Grayson Moorhead Securities/Cornfed Pig voice, which I actually liked a lot. It just felt a little bit odd. Then there’s Amy Poehler, who I didn’t even recognize in the part, doing her best not to sound like Olive Oil. The dub overall had kind of a Popeye sound to it in terms of its pacing. Not a bad thing, I suppose. Carol Burnett helps to make the maid lady that much more crazy.

But then there’s the boy.

The boy
'Who me?'

I could not care less about this boy. Does he do anything? So he’s dying, who cares? He has all these lines but it all felt unnatural and stupid. I’m not sure where this problem comes from, is it in the original source material? I don’t think you can blame this on the dub, I bet this kid would be equally annoying in any language. Even his mom doesn’t want him around. He’s especially annoying ‘cuz Spiller is there, and let’s just say he’s more Arrietty’s type (HE CAN FLY).

Spiller
He has trouble with math, though.

I think Arriety herself, both the character and her voice, manage to convey the spirit of a spunky kid who makes some beginner’s mistakes.

Arrittey
Plus, she can be pretty cute.

I did see the film digitally. I suppose that’s becoming the norm for all theatrical presentations. For a moment I felt bad that I was seeing something hand drawn but not on film, but then I remembered that film projection sucks. Digital is superior when done right. Film or no film, though, it’s still worth seeing on as large a screen as possible.

Using my iTunes star rating I discussed last time, I have to give this a 4 out of 5 stars. It’s by no means my favorite Ghibli film (pretty low on the list, actually), but it’s still very good. I hope, if you haven’t already, you give the film a shot.

Speaking of giving movies a shot, there is a Ghibli retrospective coming to the Bay Area in July. If I can manage, I want to see every film (except maybe Grave of the Fireflies, which I don’t really need to see ever again), and I want to drag as many people along as I can. It’s a special event to see such wonderful examples of craft on the big screen, and worth every penny to do so. I hope to see you there.