When young Shawn (voice of David Henrie, TV's 'Wizards of Waverly Place') is moved out to the country home of his Aunt Jessica (voice of Gracle Poletti) for rest before heart surgery, he finds more excitement than anyone bargained for when he stumbles upon "The Secret World of Arrietty."
Just as a retrospective of the animations of Studio Ghibli has been touring the country, along comes its latest via Disney Studios. American audiences may recall a prior adaptation of Mary Norton's British novel, 'The Borrowers, made into a live action film in 1997. Japanese animation legend Hayao Miyazaki has earmarked the material for the last forty years and, although he's adapted the screenplay, he chosen the key animator from his last features, Hiromasa Yonebayashi, to make his directorial debut (Gary Rydstrom directed the American cast for the English language version, which required some rewriting to match mouth movements animated for Japanese).
Miyazaki's version is a lot more faithful to Norton's book and, despite being about a race of tiny people recycling items used by human 'beans' for their own purposes, is a lot less phantasmagorical than his original stories ("Princess Mononoke," "Spirited Away," "Ponyo"). This one's straightforward, yet clearly of Miyazaki's canon with its ecological undercurrents, squat large-headed crones and female heroine.
Arrietty Clock (voice of Bridgit Mendler, TV's 'Wizards of Waverly Place') is a tween Borrower who lives with her parents Pod (voice of Will Arnett) and Homily (voice of Amy Poehler) in a cozy home beneath the floorboards of a Japanese country manse. Borrowers live off the things they source from humans while being careful to never be seen. But Arrietty's been seen as we witness in the film's first scene - a startled Shawn gets a glimpse as she scrambles through the garden, having gone off to find a bay leaf for her mother's kitchen. He sees her again when she accompanies her father on her first 'borrowing,' an epic adventure of scaling objects with fishing wire and double sided tape to procure a cube of sugar and a tissue. When Shawn places the abandoned sugar cube at a cellar grate with a note, Pod insists it not be touched and starts to plan evacuation.
Shawn's intentions are good, but his actions draw undue attention to the Clock family's existence, particularly from housekeeper Hara (voice of Carol Burnett), who views the little people as thieving pests. While her employer is out, she calls the exterminators! Carol Burnett has a ball cackling one moment and losing her grip the next.
As expected from a Ghibli film, the traditional 2D animation is lovely, full of color and nature. More importantly, in a year where the Academy has only found two songs they deemed worth nominating, "Arrietty" has two of its own to note for next - Cécile Corbel's 'Arrietty's Song' is enchanting and Bridgit Mendler does double duty with her vocal performance, penning and singing the organically inserted 'Summertime.' The film's score features both Celtic and Japanese flourishes befitting its genesis.
"The Secret World of Arrietty" may not be groundbreaking, but it is a lovely film which doesn't preach its lessons.
Robin did not see this film.
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