I have somewhat of a hard time with Hayao Miyazaki films, but that’s more about me than him. His specific way of making a children’s film has delighted millions, but I’m often left wanting more for one reason or another. He may not have directed ‘The Secret World of Arrietty’, but he co-wrote and produced it, so his fingerprints are all over the flick. With the work of Miyazaki, I appreciate it more than I like it, and this is evident again here. I will say that this take on Mary Norton’s novel (‘The Borrowers’ was the name of the novel, as well as the American film and television series that both came out back in the 90′s) is my favorite to date, but it’s a bit of a case of damning with faint praise. The story is simple, and the plot moves slowly, but there’s a lot of charm there for those with patience. I’m not 100% sure if small children will be able to sit there quietly, but anyone able to appreciate beautiful hand-drawn art will like what this has to offer. If ‘Spirited Away’, ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’, or ‘Ponyo’ wowed you, this should strike you in a similar way. For me, it’s another case of recognizing a quality film but not quite enjoying it like I perhaps should. I give all of this up front just so you know that I’m still recognizing the film, but won’t be too effusive in my praise of it. The cartoon is just not really my cup of tea, to be honest. I recognize a good movie though, so I won’t hold that against it in this review…
The story is centered around the interaction between a family of 4 inch tall people and the humans they “borrow” from, just like in the previous incarnation. Here, they’re still the Clock family…father Pod (voice of Will Arnett in the US, Mark Strong in the UK), mother Homily (voice of Amy Poehler in the US, Olivia Colman in the UK), and the title character, daughter Arrietty (voice of Bridgit Mendler in the US, Saoirse Ronan in the UK). They live in the floors of an old house and pretty much avoid humans, unless that is they need something, in which case they borrow it. This all changes when a young boy named Shawn (voice of David Henrie) comes to stay in the house with his relative before surgery and discovers Arrietty. She’s the adventurous type, prone to explorations that worry her parents, and she’s fascinated by the boy, and the same is true likewise. A friendship begins to bloom, but that is put to the test when the Clock family finds another small person in Spiller (voice of Moises Arias) who warns that they must move on or risk being discovered by the dastardly woman Hara (voice of Carol Burnett). Can Shawn and Arrietty maintain their bond? It’s a Disney movie in the end, so I think you all know the answer.
I saw the American version (obviously) at my screening, so that’s the voice work I can speak of. It’s pretty much serviceable but unspectacular. Will Arnett is suitably gruff and Amy Poehler is your standard issue worried mother, though Bridgit Mendler brings a little something extra as the title character. She’s in the mold of many a Disney princess before her, just without the royalty. The same can’t be said for the bland David Henrie or Moises Arias, though Carol Burnett chews the scenery nicely as the antagonist who messes with the Clock family. This is the type of animation that focuses on the visuals more than the voices, and it shows to a certain degree…to me at least.
The direction is very nice, credited to both Hiromasa Yonebayashi and Gary Rydstrom (with the former obviously being the main one), though as previously mentioned Hayao Miyazaki has his fingerprints all over this one. There’s great care taken in the visuals, and the color pallet is rather extraordinary. This is a treat for your eyes, and almost worth the price of admission alone. As for the script, Miyazaki (along with Keiko Niwa, though Karey Kirkpatrick contributed to the English version I saw) isn’t able to match the beauty on hand. It’s a bit on the dull side and takes too long to get where it’s going. Granted, it’s an improvement on the prior versions of the story that I’ve seen before, but it still left me wanting more.
In the end, if you’re more of a fan in regard to this type of animated feature than I am, you’re likely to enjoy ‘The Secret World of Arrietty’ when it opens. If not, you’re going to be lukewarm at best on it, so take that into account when reading this early review. I think you should give it a shot, but just realize what you’re getting into. That’s the best advice that I can give…the rest is up to you and your taste in film!
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Tags: Amy Poehler, Disney, Hayao Miyazaki, The Secret World Of Arrietty, will arnett