Directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Featuring Voices by Bridgit Mendler, Amy Poehler, and Will Arnett
Is this Japanese anime adaptation of a famed children’s book series larger than life, or will it make as small an impact as its diminutive stars?
From famed Japanese anime film producer Studio Ghibli (2002’s Academy Award-winning Best Animated Feature Spirited Away), Arrietty and her family of borrowers – a species of miniature people surviving on what they “borrow” – have their lives turned upside down when the young normal-sized boy Shaun discovers the little people during his vacation at his aunt’s country home. Now the borrowers must decide if they can trust the kind Shaun or follow their instinctual fear of humans – or “beans” – and leave the home they love.
A lot of Studio Ghibli films are adaptations, but this is probably the most familiar being from Mary Norton’s classic Borrowers children novel series. The borrowers themselves are faithfully adapted in terms of names and likenesses. What intrigues me in most tales of miniature people in our world is the inventive reusing of human trinkets, and Arrietty doesn’t disappoint. Some neat uses for adhesive tape and ear rings spring to mind.
Arrietty is translated and released in the US by Walt Disney Pictures, as are most other Studio Ghibli films. Disney tends to stock its Ghibli dub casts with Hollywood talent, which aren’t always the best suited for voice work. Thankfully, this cast proves up to the task and does an excellent job. Star talent includes Disney Channel’s Bridgit Mendler as the titular Arrietty, Carol Burnett as the cantankerous maid Hara, and real-life couple Amy Poehler and Will Arnett as Arrietty’s parents Homily and Pod respectively. The names of the human characters are changed in the English adaptation (Sho, Sasako, and Haru become Shaun, Jessica and Hara), but it doesn’t hurt the story.
Ultimately though, the film lacks a sense of accomplishment. The “villain” of the story is an old lady who halfway through goes on a vindictive borrower-napping rampage, her obsessiveness almost out of the blue. Her outburst justifies the borrowers’ fears despite the bonding between the young borrower girl Arrietty and the young human boy Shaun, instead of their friendship overcoming all as would be expected in this kind of family flick.
I’m actually surprised the film doesn’t follow up the more dynamic aspects it introduces to add some action and suspense. Instead, it ends anticlimactically, leaving you wondering if anything of note actually happened.
The Blu-Ray is in 1.85:1 widescreen. It’s a pretty film. Studio Ghibli continues to be a high mark in beautifully drawn and colored animation. Since it’s not a really active film though, some of the superb scenery shots are just static images breaking the animation flow of motion.
The Blu-Ray also includes Dolby Digital 5.1 surround in English, French and original Japanese (with English and French subtitles for Japanese –language purists). It’s all clear, easy to hear. The soundtrack is populated mostly by the Celtic-themed tunes of French singer Cécile Corbel (including the main theme “Arrietty’s Song”). All of these perfectly match the green, lush setting of the country home the film takes place in. Tacked onto the ending credits is Arrietty’s English voice Bridgit Mendler’s generic poppy “Summertime,” which doesn’t fit as well.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
This release doesn’t have many interesting bonuses. Included are a couple of music videos – one with the calm and soothing Celtic-like “Arrietty’s Song,” and the generic and forgettable pop song “Summertime.” Unfortunately the latter is the one with the “making of” video.
The disc includes storyboards for the film, but instead of appearing in a slide show, they’re presented as an optional replacement to the film’s animation in the main feature. It’s a unique gimmick, to show the film following the original storyboard plans, but it slows down anyone wanting to simply browse the art.
This set also comes with a DVD copy of the film, which only included the “Summertime” music video and its “making of” feature, so skip that disc.
Overall (Not an Average)
I want to like the newer Ghibli movies more than I do, being a fan of earlier films like Princess Mononoke, Castle in the Sky, My Neighbor Totoro, and even Howl’s Moving Castle. But at the end of this family film, I felt that nothing really came out of it. It’s pretty and has a good score, which is great for background noise, but that’s about it.
The Film 7/10
The Video 9/10
The Audio 9/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 6/10
Overall (Not an Average) 7/10