Arrietty ? Another Success for Studio Ghibli
Based on the classic kid?s fantasy story ?The Borrowers?, Studio Ghibli?s lastest animated masterpiece tells the story of Arrietty, a tiny girl, living with her family underneath an old cottage in the country. Arrietty and her family survive by ?borrowing? things from the humans who live in the house, such as food and old left-over knick knacks. While their home is beautiful and comfortable, the borrowing can be dangerous and they must always hide from the giant humans. Once there were many such families, but now it is just Arrietty, her mother and father, and a near-feral boy who lives off the land. In the film, a young boy comes to live at the cottage, owned by his grandmother, in order to rest before having a major heart operation. He catches a glimpse of Arrietty and slowly builds a friendship with her. However, the housekeeper also discovers the little people, and sets about trying to capture them.
After the Totoro-esque simplicity and innocence of Ponyo, this is Ghibli heading back in to more contemplative and serious territory. It is a stunningly beautiful film, with vibrant colours and shamelessly revelling in long, slow shots of the cottage, the garden and the hidden world of the borrowers. In style and tone it is closer to Howl?s Moving Castle, Only Yesterday and even Grave of the Fireflies. Don?t get me wrong, this is very much a film for kids of all ages, but it is more mature, more considered than Ponyo. And while it focuses once again on a young female protagonist, the viewpoint feels less childlike than previous Miyazaki stories. Both the young characters act far more adult than the actual adults around them!
So, in a story about tiny people, scale is going to be all important. And in Arrietty the animators have done a grand job of conveying the differences in size between the human world and the borrower world. The transitions between the two are handled with care, and the interactions between the humans and borrowers feels believable and to scale. The only time the issue of scale comes a cropper is in some of the sound design. For 90% of the film the sound design is exquisite, helping to bring to life the two worlds, as well as when crossing from one to the other. However, while the designers have done a good job in adjusting the relative volume of items between the ?large? and ?small? worlds, they have done so inconsistently. For example, when Arrietty is exploring the human house one night, a nearby mantle clock ticks heavily and loudly (as one expects when heard from the perspective of a tiny pair of ears). But later, when Arrietty is sitting alone while a rain storm (with appropriate giant rain drops) rages around her, the sound of the rain drops hitting the ground are as humans might hear them, but not the thunderous KABOOM the sound design has led you to expect. This is a minor niggle, but in a film with such attention to detail, it seems strange to have such inconsistencies.
I saw the UK dub, which was, as with most recent Ghibli films, superbly handled and well-cast. This is a film that relies on the imagery to convey the plot as much as, if not more so, than the dialogue. And while the core cast handled the lines with consumate ease, Arrietty and her mother being singled out for particular praise, I feel that something may have been lost in translation somewhat. There is a sense that the lines needed to be just a bit longer, as though the adapter had tried to stick to a ?less is more? approach. This is best illustrated by the sick little boy, Sho, who I kept wanting to say just one more sentence, or add just one more phrase. Of course, in his case, this may be indicative of his illness. But I wonder if it is more to do with the style of drama Miyazaki is attempting to produce. And that, in the Japanese original, the paucity of dialogue, the Pinter-esque pauses, make more sense? It doesn?t overly detract from the movie, and certainly is no fault of the cast. It is a very British cast, which is interesting. Famous names, yes…but not Hollywood superstars in any sense.
Arrietty is a must-see for any Ghibli fan. It doesn?t disappoint and continues the studio?s proud history of family films that work on multiple levels. It will entertain your kids in magical ways, but will keep adults enthralled as well. It is a quiet, emotional, beautiful, moving, thoughtful and simple tale…very much Ghibli at their best.