Japan’s Studio Ghibli has had a great deal of success bringing their anime films to America, thanks in large part to Disney, which distributes the films in the U.S. Fans and critics alike have loved Ghibli movies, beginning with their first – 1986’s “Castle in the Sky”. Stand-outs from the studio include “My Neighbor Totoro” (1988), “Spirited Away”, which won the Best Animated Feature Oscar in 2002, “Howl’s Moving Castle”, which was nominated for an Academy Award in 2006 and 2009’s “Ponyo”.
Their latest, “The Secret World of Arrietty”, is a simple and sweet addition to the collection, written and co-produced by long-time director Hayao Miyazaki, who adapted it from the book, The Borrowers.
Borrowers are little people who live under the floors of homes. They take just what they need to survive from the humans they live with – an occasional sugar cube or tissue. And they have to be sure they are never seen. 14 year old Arrietty (voiced by Disney Channel’s Bridgit Mendler) is just old enough to start going on borrowing trips with her father, which has her mother worried. Real-life husband and wife Will Arnet and Amy Peohler voice the parents.
One day while she’s out on her own Arrietty is spotted by Sean (“Wizards of Waverly Place” star David Henrie), a teenager who’s come with his aunt to stay at this house in the country. Sean has some medical problems and needs to rest before surgery. Even though she’s been told to stay away from “Human Beans”, as they call them, Arrietty is drawn to Sean and he is immediately fascinated with her. The two begin an unlikely friendship and learn much from each other.
The first thing that makes “The Sercet World of Arrietty” stand out is the beautiful animation – completely hand-drawn by hundreds of Japanese animators with grace and quality. The characters are vivid and expressive and the backgrounds are gorgeous, many appear to be watercolor paintings. Both Arreitty’s miniature world and the real-life settings are wonderful.
The work of the voice cast in this U.S. version is quite good, including comedy legend Carol Burnett, as the home’s caretaker, who’s suspected for years that little people were living in the house. She’s getting the hang of voicing villains (which she also did in 2008’s “Horton Hears a Who!”)
At times the film feels a bit rushed. I would have liked to have seen more of the unusual relationship between Arrietty and Sean before the very abrupt ending. And though it’s rated G there is some adult material here, mostly involving Sean’s illness. Yes, this is an animated movie with the Disney name attached, and it’s a fantasy about 4-inch tall people, but this is a little more grown-up than “Ponyo” and not recommended for the very little ones. However, everyone else will enjoy this gentle, unique story.
On The Official L-C-J Report Card, “The Secret World of Arrietty” gets a B+. The first in what has already been a good year for animated films.