VOCAL WORK BY
Amy Poehler, Will Arnett, Bridgit Mendler, Carol Burnett, Frank Marshall, Saiorse Ronan, Phyllida Law
Gary Rydstrom, Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Hayao Miyazaki, Karey Kirkpatrick, Keiko Niwa, Mary Norton (Novel "The Borrowers")
Walt Disney Co.
While Studio Ghibli is less well known to American audiences than its critical counterpart Pixar, the studio has been producing masterful, entertaining, intelligent and mesmerizing child-centered animated features for years including such acclaimed films as Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke and my favorite animated feature of all-time, Grave of the Fireflies.
The latest Studio Ghibli production, The Secret World of Arrietty, is being released here in the United States through Walt Disney Motion Pictures, a fact that will hopefully help the film find an audience at least equivalent to that of their previous partnership, Ponyo. Loosely based upon a 1952 children's book by British author Mary Norton, The Secret World of Arrietty evolves around a family of tiny people who live beneath the floors of a rather isolated country house. The family consists of Pod (Will Arnett), Homily (Amy Poehler) and their 13-year-old daughter, Arrietty (Bridgit Mendler). The "borrowers," so named because they borrow things from their human counterparts not likely to be missed, refer to their human counterparts as "Beans" and have a strict code against ever being seen by them.
When a new "Bean" joins the household, a young withdrawn boy named Shawn (David Henrie) sent to the country to prepare for a serious surgery, disaster strikes when Arrietty is spied by the lad during her first "borrowing," an incident that leads to family chaos and her own increasingly misguided efforts to correct her mistake.
It is important to note that, as is true of all Studio Ghibli productions, The Secret World of Arrietty is a Japanese film first and has been dubbed into English utilizing the American cast listed in the credits here. Almost without fail, I've always found myself with a preference for the Japanese version of Studio Ghibli films. One can almost sense with American voice actors that they're trying to create more excitement, tension and conflict than are really present in the film, and Studio Ghibli's Japanese vocal talent almost uniformly seems more in touch with the vision of studio co-head and inspiration Hayao Miyazaki, who has given up the directorial reins here but still has co-written the script with his usual touches.
Among the American vocal talent, it is Carol Burnett who stands out most brightly as Hara the Maid. Amy Poehler and Will Arnett are fine here, but Poehler in particular seems determined to energize a film that is meant to be more contemplative. As Arrietty, Bridgit Mendler is also quite fine with vocal work that captures the young girl's innocence and wonder and bravado in a way that remains consistent with Miyazaki's history.
Studio Ghibli productions are always flawlessly animated, and the same is true for The Secret World of Arrietty, a magical and beautiful film that at times, many times, is breathtaking in its wonder. This is a film that most resonates with those who can surrender to the universe that is created, and if you do you will be most richly rewarded.
The messages in The Secret World of Arrietty are for the most part rather simple... respect all living things and celebrate those who endeavor to protect them. What's amazing is just how wonderfully the film brings everything to life in a way that will prove pleasing to both adults and children.
If you've never found yourself watching a Studio Ghibli film, then you owe it to yourself to do so. Why not start with The Secret World of Arrietty, a film that deserves to be seen on the big screen and a film that you deserve to see on the big screen.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic