Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Anime Film Review: The Secret World of Arrietty

For a little change of pace, today I will be reviewing an anime film, and the subject of today's review is Studio Ghibli's 'The Secret World of Arrietty'. Directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi in his Studio Ghibli directorial debut, and written by Hayao Miyazaki and Keiko Niwa, this film is based on Mary Norton's novel, 'The Borrowers'.

Here we have a story about a young girl named Arrietty. Arrietty belongs to a family of "borrowers", who are tiny people who live under the floorboards, "borrowing", things from humans that won't be missed so that they can survive. The rules of borrowing are to never take more than what you need, and to never be seen by a "Bean"(what the borrowers call "human beings").  One day, an unfamiliar face arrives at the human house that Arrietty and her family live under. Sickly Shawn has been sent to the country to live with his aunt, so that he can relax before he has potentially live saving heart surgery. Though forbidden, Shawn and Arrietty eventually start up an unlikely friendship. Meanwhile, Hara, the maid, long thought crazy for speaking of the little people under the floor boards, is out to prover her sanity by catching one of the Borrowers, causing certain trouble for the tiny family.

I enjoyed the story, but I would have liked for it to be longer. Though at 94 minutes, it's at about the standard feature length of a film. Rather than make it longer, better pacing may have suited it better, yet I can't exactly think of any key moments where time was explicitly wasted. My main issue is that I don't think there was enough time for Arrietty and Shawn's relationship to develop, and seeing those events unfold would have been the highlight of the film for me. Instead of having a natural building of a friendship occur, the conflict of the film forced the two together and then abruptly apart again, making me as a viewer wish for more interaction between the friends. The characters themselves were done well enough and were quite likeable. The curious and open-minded Arrietty and the gentle-natured Shawn drive the film and both have their share of development. Though the antagonist of the film, Hara, who is not quite good and not quite evil, was more of an annoyance for both the characters and me as a viewer. I realize there needed to be some conflict in the film, but the whole time I just felt like she was ruining any possible interaction the main characters could be having.

I find Studio Ghibli's signature art style to be very pleasant and visually appealing. This film, of course, stays with that style tradition. I have to say though, while the animation quality is consistent with the other Studio Ghibli films, this one felt a little less vibrant and was a little more toned down. I would say that this felt like "Studio Ghibli on a budget", but it seems that it had the same budget as 'Howl's Moving Castle' and a higher budget than 'Spirited Away', which are two of my favorites. It may just be that this film doesn't have the fantastical setting and large scope of story that those two films had, and doesn't really need to be bright and flashy.

I'll admit. I had preconceived notions about the American voice cast after seeing the trailers for both the British and American version. Maybe it is just me, but from the trailers, I felt like the British voices fit better, and as an American, I guess I just find the British accent a little more interesting. I obtusely thought that Disney was just trying to push their stable of teen idols on us, without regard for what would sound good and fit best. I was very wrong and regret that way of thinking. Bridget Medler, the voice of Arrietty, did a fantastic job and sounded very natural and fit perfectly. As did David Henrie, who voiced Shawn, and pulled off the tired and sickly tone of Shawn's voice quite well. The only voice I took issue with was Spiller's, who sounded like a stereotypical cave man and like an amateur among professionals. I don't blame the voice actor though. I think the voice director should have told him this didn't sound good. And one little issue I had with Disney's localization was the changing of characters names. Shawn was Sho in the Japanese, his aunt Jessica was Sadako, and Hara was Haru. It's not a big deal or anything. I just think it is weirdly unnecessary. It's not like those Japanese names are hard to pronounce.

While not my favorite Studio Ghibli film, I quite enjoyed this movie. It was more reserved in tone than others, and that is part of why I enjoyed it. Sometimes you are in the mood for something a little more laid back. But, I can't help to think young children, who this movie and the original book is seemingly geared toward, would find this a bit boring. Even with the addition of the story's conflict, it is never especially exciting. And yes, I know I am not a kid and I can't really speak for them, but I don't think I would like this film if I saw it in my childhood. I wouldn't be able to appreciate the ambiance that this film creates. Or maybe I am not giving today's children enough credit. While I don't recommend this movie for children, I do however believe this is a must see for Studio Ghibli fans. It has it's minor flaws, but it was still an enjoyable viewing experience, and offers up a bit of a different feel than the other Studio Ghibli films I am familiar with, which is a good thing.

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