The Secret World of Arrietty is another in a long line of excellent Studio Ghibli films
As has been my modus operandi, allow me to make a bold statement: Studio Ghibli (pronounced gee-blee) is the best animation studio in operation today, Pixar and Dreamworks be damned.
At the helm of the Japanese juggernaut that is Studio Ghibli sits Hayao Miyazaki, an artist with 50 years of animation experience. Miyazaki’s works have garnered him international renown, including an Oscar for 2001’s Spirited Away. The Secret World of Arrietty, which, though he merely wrote it rather than direct, continues this trend of excellence.
Arrietty is the follow-up to 2008’s Ponyo, and tells the story of the Clock family, a trio of four-inch-tall people who live in the walls of a human house. At night, the Clock family sneaks into the human house, takes minor provisions in order to survive, and lives happily in their tiny home. Does this plot sound vaguely familiar? If so, then you’ve picked up on another of Ghibli’s continuing themes – retelling classic children's fables. In this case, The Borrowers provides much of the source material.
While accompanying her father, a forever disengaged Will Arnett, Arrietty (voiced by Bridget Mendler) is seen by a human being. This is a Borrower no-no, for, as it is put in the film, “the beans' curiosity will never stop.” This will presumably lead to the destruction of the aforementioned tiny home. Arrietty and the human who saw her begin an uneasy friendship that, thanks to the human antagonist, quickly turns into a protector/protectee relationship. With the power of friendship, and the fact that children in movies are always smarter than the adults, Arrietty and her family overcome the difficulty that faces them, and they are free to live as they please.
If you’ve never seen a Studio Ghibli feature, you could do better than to rush out and see Arrietty in the theatre (Spirited Away has an Oscar for a reason). But, on the flipside, you could do a lot worse (I’m glaring pointedly at The Cat Returns here). The point is that even the weakest Studio Ghibli movie shines brilliantly in comparison to most other animated features. The plots are always emotionally engaging, the characters are often humorous and fully realized, and the painstakingly, hand-drawn set pieces and backgrounds are awash with a life and colour that I guarantee you won't find in another animation studio.
If you've been a fan of Studio Ghibli for a while, then you know what to expect from Arrietty. Go see it while you can – I imagine its theatrical release will be a short one. If, however, this is all new to you, go track down copies of Porco Rosso, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Grave of the Fireflies, and Spirited Away. Watch them and marvel at the wonderfully illustrated gems you have found. Then wait for Arrietty to show up on DVD.