Movie Review – The Secret World of Arrietty

What was that?  Did you just see that go by?

If you didn’t see it, I did, and can tell you all about it.  What I saw was a little person, about four inches tall.  It was a Borrower, borrowing some of my food to bring back to his family so that his family can survive.

Okay.  I didn’t really see a Borrower.  I did, however, see The Secret World of Arrietty, Hayao Miyazaki’s latest animated masterpiece to reach America, courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures.  I say this because Japan got their first viewing of the movie back in July of 2010.

In Japan, the movie was released by Toho (a film distribution company) as “The Borrower Arrietty” (or 借りぐらしのアリエッティ, Kari-gurashi no Arietti if you’re a language buff).  I will get to the performance later.

In moving along, Miyazaki has created several animated masterpieces.  This automatically begs the question: Does The Secret World of Arrietty stand tall among his other works, or is it a miniscule work that is destined to be missed and forgotten?  Let’s find out.

Before I get to the review, I think that it is only fair that I offer you some background on Miyazaki.  For those who don’t know much about his work, Hayao Miyazaki is considered by some to be the Japanese version of Walt Disney.  The animated films that he makes are quite charming and the experience associated with it can only be described as pure magic.  A few of his notable works include Princess Mononoke, Howl’s Moving Castle and the highly-acclaimed Spirited Away.  Studio Ghibli is the workshop where all these masterpieces are born.  With Walt Disney Pictures partnering with Studio Ghibli, these gems can be localized for the U.S., and can be enjoyed by a new audience.  Now, we will get to the review.

The movie begins with a 12-year old boy named Shawn (David Henrie) being driven to his mother’s childhood home.  Being gravely ill, he is dropped off there, since his parents are too busy to care for him.  He is left under the care of great aunt Jessica (Gracie Poletti), and Hara (Carol Burnett), the caretaker for Jessica’s house.

Meanwhile, a 14-year old “little” girl named Arrietty (Bridgit Mendler) grabs a bay leaf and runs home.  On her way there, she was nearly attacked by a cat but escaped.

Unbeknownst to Arrietty, Shawn noticed her as he was getting out of the car.  He saw the cat trying to attack something, until it ran off after being attacked by a crow.  When he saw what the cat was trying to attack, he saw a very tiny girl.

Back at Arrietty’s house, her father Pod (Will Arnett) takes her on her first borrowing expedition.  The mission?  Get some sugar and tissue paper.  Arrietty’s mother Homily (Amy Poehler), being the worrywart that she is, told Arrietty to be careful.

And with that, the father and daughter borrowers were off.  Pod takes Arrietty above the floor boards and they carry out their mission.

All goes according to plan until they get to the tissue box in Shawn’s room.  As they were grabbing the tissue, Arrietty notices that Shawn is awake.  In a silent frenzy of panic, she drops the sugar cube that she got with her father.  Shawn, in wanting to get to know them better, tells them not to be afraid of him.

The mission was not a total failure.  Arrietty manages to borrow her very first item: a stray pin that she found on the floor.  In grabbing the pin, she holds it like a sword and holsters it into the side of her dress.

Upon going home, Arrietty has failed on one major count.  According to the Borrowers, a Borrower cannot be seen by a “Being”.  Since the young “Being” Shawn saw her, it has awoken his curiosity for them.  Arrietty is then faced with a dilemma.  Should she befriend Shawn and endanger her family?  Doing this could risk her being noticed by other “Beings”.  “Beings” that are not quite as friendly as Shawn is.  So is Arrietty in danger now?  I could tell you, but where’s the fun in that?  Watch the movie and find out.

In understanding the length of the movie, I really loved how the plot was executed.  Two different worlds were presented.  Our world and the Borrower’s world, which is a little bit more dangerous for them.  The music was amazing, and was integrated well with the scenery.

Getting to the characters, Miyazaki once again did this well.  We are given Shawn, a boy with an ongoing medical condition.  We have great aunt Jessica (based off of great aunt Sophie from Howl’s Moving Castle) and Hara, the crazy housekeeper.  In the Borrower’s world, we have the somewhat loyal and tenacious Arrietty, with the father Pod being strong and reserved and the mother Homily being excitable with an eye for luxury.  I also liked Spiller (Moisés Arias), a tribal boy Borrower who yielded a bow and visited the Arrietty’s family.  I liked what they did with his voice, in making him speak like a native.  All in all, the variety of characters were all executed well and were each unique in their own way.

While The Secret World of Arrietty was close to perfect, there were a couple things that that I just couldn’t help but nitpick.  My major one was with the music during the credits of the movie.  While I loved the first song in the credits, the second one was total trash.  It’s the fluffy bubblegum pop that Disney calls music.  The song was reminiscent of the crappy Jonas Brothers remix that they did for Ponyo.  Word to Disney.  Don’t mess with the soundtrack!  Miyazaki gets it right, and you have to go and insert your bubblegum teeny-bop crap in the credits.  Besides that, the movie is gold.  All the other songs are fine.  My one other nitpick, albeit being much smaller has to do with the length of the movie.  I really thought that the movie should’ve been a little longer.  More could’ve been done with plot and character development.  Then we would have something akin to Howl’s Moving Castle or Spirited Away.  However, with the G rating, I believe that only so much could be done here.  As it is, a child’s attention span is limited compared to an adult’s.  Being similar in length to Ponyo, they probably wanted to appeal to more children.  I am satisfied with the ending, but I still thought that they could’ve added a little more to the movie.

How did The Secret World of Arrietty do?  In Japan, it did pretty well, grossing 9.25 billion yen ($110 million).  In spite of that, it’s a far cry from Howl’s Moving Castle’s 23.2 billion yen ($231.7 million) and Spirited Away’s 27.5 billion yen ($275 million).  While the numbers for Arrietty were good in Japan, they were terrible here.  With a Borrower-sized $6.5 million weekend gross, this poor film doesn’t stand a chance to the “Being” films that are competing against it.  With numbers like this, I would give this film a month at the most.  Fortunately, this review is not about numbers.  Size doesn’t matter.  What matters is whether I liked the movie or not.  Spirited Away was Japan’s highest grossing movie and was the first Miyazaki movie I ever saw.  Since then, I have seen a handful of them, in eager anticipation for each new one that comes out.  In comparing this movie to other Miyazaki movies that I have seen in the past, I would have to say that I really enjoyed it.  It’s no Spirited Away, but a great movie in its own right.  For the most part, it was localized well, except for that one track that Disney included at the end.  I enjoyed the scenery and loved the story.  It was a heartfelt story filled with adventure, courage and hope.  I give The Secret World of Arrietty a 4 out of 5.