Archive for February, 2012

Review: The Secret World of Arrietty

I’m mixed on my feelings for The Secret World of Arrietty. Studio Ghibli’s latest effort to come to America is, on a technical level, fantastic. The artwork, sound design, and music are all great. But when it comes to the story, it falls flat. The American voice acting is droll, there’s no real ‘threat’ to the characters, and it commits an egregious sin at the end of the movie: the filmmakers literally tell you exactly what lesson you should have learned via voice over.

Based on the children’s book The BorrowersArrietty is about a family of Borrowers, tiny people who live out of sight and “borrow” (steal) things they need from regular humans, but only things that us normal-sized folk won’t miss. The world from the point of view of Arrietty is actually quite fascinating. Everything is new and wondrous to her, though from our perspective everything just appears larger. During her first “borrowing,” she venture forth from her family’s home with her father, Pod. While attempting to take a cube of sugar, she is discovered by the sickly boy, Shawn, living in the home.

This creates all sorts of problems for the tiny Borrowers. Their rule, whenever they’re discovered by humans, is to move since a human’s curiosity will eventually disrupt the Borrowers’ way of life. Arrietty befriends Shawn and must enlist his aid when her mother goes missing. Unfortunately none of these problems were ones I cared about. I felt that the dangers of the world they lived in were enough to keep me worried for the little heroine. Director Hiromasa Yonebayashi, in his directing debut, does a great job of establishing the world, but once it’s time to amp up the stakes, the movie just doesn’t deliver.

As with most animated films, especially ones dubbed in English from their original language, the voice acting could make or break an audience’s enjoyment of the movie. I was particularly disappointed in this aspect of Arrietty. While the voice of Arrietty herself was fine (Bridgit Mendler in the American version, though I would’ve loved to hear the U.K. audio track with Saoirse Ronan), everyone else just seemed drab and dull. Shawn, voiced by David Henrie (the “Son” in the TV series How I Met Your Mother), sounded lifeless and Will Arnett, who voices Pod, is surprisingly boring. I assume Pod is supposed to be the stern father who tries his best to be the protector and provider of his family, but here he sounds bored with it all. And Carol Burnett, the legendary comedienne, sounds like she’s trying too hard to be the cooky old housekeeper. It all just sounds. . . off.

The slow pace of the film may also put off younger viewers. Children old enough to read the book itself may have the patience to sit through this, however. But at that point, maybe they should just stick to reading the book. The Secret World of Arrietty is a gorgeous movie, and the sound design may make this a disc to own on Blu-ray if you want to show off your home theatre. If you’re looking for something on the level of Spirited Away or most of Pixar’s films, you may be let down.


And another thing – it sounded, to me, like they couldn’t decide on how to pronounce ‘Arrietty.’ At times it was pronounced in a very American style, with an emphasis on the first syllable. Then all of a sudden, it would sound very Italian, with emphasis on the third syllable – Arrietty. It’s not that big of a deal, but it did bug me.

February 19, 2012 at 5:48 pm Leave a comment

February 2012
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