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Film Review: Arrietty

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Title: Arrietty (Kari-gurashi no Arrietty)

UK release date: July 29th 2011
Cast: UK – Saoirse Ronan [Hanna], Tom Holland [newcomer], Mark Strong [The Young Victoria], Olivia Coleman [Peep Show], Phyllida Law [Kingdom], Geraldine McEwan [Marple]
Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi (Written by: Mary Norton, novel; Hayao Miyazaki & Keiko Niwa, screenplay)

Skwigly Rating: 4/5

Studio Ghibli’s latest offering is Arrietty, an animated retelling of the classic story The Borrowers by Mary Norton. The highly talented studio who brought us Ponyo (Gake no Ue no Ponyo 2008) and My Neighbour Totoro (Tonari no Totoro – 1988) have done it again with another beautifully animated film which boasts an intriguing and heartwarming story line.

The film marks Hiromasa “Maro” Yonebayashi’s directorial debut, which at the age of thirty eight makes him the youngest Studio Ghibli director on record. Maro-san has been an animator in many forms for the studio since 1996, working on films such as Princess Mononoke (Mononoke-hime 1997), Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi – 2001) and Howl’s Moving Castle (Hauru no Ugoku Shiro 2004).

Arrietty’s screenplay is penned by the great Hayao Miyazaki, his most recent screenwriting role since 1995’s Whisper of the Heart (Mimi wo Sumaseba). It has all of his trademark elements, such as a strong female protagonist, very little in the way of shock and suspense, and no violence. Whilst it’s not his best work ever – personally I would reserve that award for My Neighbour Totoro – it’s a lovely film and it is very well executed.

The artwork for Arrietty, as per every Ghibli film, is amazing, but this one stands out in particular: because of the size of the Borrowers, everything is huge, especially the flowers and foliage. Arrietty’s bedroom is almost a garden, it’s got so many flowers covering the walls, floor and ceiling. It’s incredibly beautiful and the attention to detail is certainly not lacking.

A huge plus for the film is that they’ve created an English-speaking version with British actors providing the voices, in keeping with setting of the novel. There is also a US version, but why the American film industry felt they needed it is beyond me.

Saoirse Ronan, title star of the recent teen assassin flick, Hanna, plays Arrietty, the strong and vivacious young Borrower with a huge sense of adventure. There is no sense of celebrity with Saoirse in this role, which I think is a big mark in her favour. Having a “star” as it were, could’ve been really jarring and taken away from the story, which would’ve been a real shame. She is, however, an interesting actress and I think she does a good job of bringing Arrietty to life, with all her feistiness and bravery.

Pod Clock is voiced by Mark Strong, an actor who has gained standing in the last few years through playing devious and nasty characters. He came across as a little bland in this role, but whether or not this was down to Miyazaki-san’s writing of the character, I’m not sure; where other filmic versions of the Borrowers depicted Pod as a jolly, but cautious man, I wonder if the anime master wanted a more stoic portrayal for this film.

Once again, Miyazaki-san plays the ‘save the environment’ card, even giving one of the characters a speech to recite about how we are destroying the planet – I have to hand it to him, he is bold in his beliefs and he might be right, too. Slapping people around the face with it so blatantly is a tad too much, though.

There’s a little nod to a couple of Ghibili’s past films in Arrietty, which a seasonsed fan might recognise: Shō’s cat, Nyan (I hope not named after the recent meme) bears a rather striking resemblance to Muta from The Cat Returns and Moon from Whisper of the Heart, as does the crow, who in The Cat Returns is a friend of Muta’s. Spiller, one of the Borrowers from the novel, is also very similar to Ashitaka from Mononoke.

It has a slightly ‘folky’ soundtrack, which some have slated as cheesy, but I think really adds to the lore of the Borrowers, almost as if it’s a part of their culture.

I was delighted by the film, especially having been to see it at a children’s showing, because ultimately, that’s who it’s made for. That’s not to say that adults wouldn’t enjoy it; I think they certainly would. There is something there for everyone in all Studio Ghibli films, but I think even more so in Arrietty.

It’s more serious than some of their other films and it’s also quite long for an animation, as it runs for 94 minutes. Children younger than 7-ish may get a tad fidgety near the three-quarter mark (as did my cinema-companion, who’s also a big Ghibli enthusiast). If you’re a fan of the studio already, then you should definitely go watch. I think this makes an excellent introduction into Japanese anime and Studio Ghibli films, if you’re new to the genre or the studio itself, however, because of the classic nature of the story of The Borrowers.

Overall, I’d give it 4 out of 5 stars.

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Dan McHale
My short is on Skwigly.
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