Review of The Secret World of Arrietty.
The classic children's tales "The Borrowers" come to life in Studio Ghibli's animated adventure The Secret World of Arrietty.
For his latest animated adventure, Japanese master Hayao Miyazaki and his team at Tokyo-based Studio Ghibli look back to British writer Mary Norton's 1952 book "The Borrowers" and all her stories about the tiny people who live under the floorboards of unsuspecting humans and make use of discarded items like a pin or a button.
The Secret World of Arrietty marks something of a changing point for Studio Ghibli; established in 1985 by Miyazaki and fellow animator Isao Takahata, and the creator of numerous classics including the Oscar-winning Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, My Neighbor Totoro, Castle In The Sky and Nausicaa Of The Valley Of The Wind.
Miyazaki and Keiko Niwa adapt Norton's stories but the 70-year-old Studio Ghibli co-founder hands over the directing duties to up-and- coming animator Hiromasa Yonebayashi.
Luckily, The Secret World of Arrietty does not skip an artistic beat and Yonebayashi and his animators create the brilliant and beautiful artwork fans expect from a Studio Ghibli movie.
Miyazaki and Niwa also make great use of Norton's timeless stories, relocating the adventures from Norton's native England to a house outside Tokyo and focusing the story on another impressive Studio Ghibli heroine, the miniature 14-year-old girl named Arietty (voice of Bridgit Mendler) who lives with her nervous mother (voice of Amy Poehler) and soft-spoken father (Will Arnett) under the floorboards.
Everything changes when Arrietty discovers the sickly teenage boy named Shawn (voice of David Henrie) resting for upcoming heart surgery in an upstairs bedroom of his aunt's home. Arietty has always been fascinated by the world of the humans but the arrival of a handsome teen like Shawn especially tugs at her curiosity. Unfortunately, Arietty's growing friendship with Shawn comes at a price.
There have been several TV series based on The Borrowers in addition to Peter Hewitt's 1997 live-action movie but Yonebayashi's movie best captures the universal spirit and childlike sense of wonder of the stories.
In one of the film's best moments, Arrietty and her father Pod rappel down the side of a kitchen cupboard using fishhooks and thread. During the film's most exciting sequence, Shawn plucks Arrietty from his bedroom window just before a black crow attempts to eat her.
Like many of Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli films, Arrietty celebrates the beautiful nature surrounding the secluded Tokyo home, the complex emotions of its young characters and the bravery and resourcefulness of its 14-year-old heroine.
Far more sophisticated than recent Hollywood animated fare from Kung Fu Panda 2 to Cars 2, Arrietty stays loyal to the fairytale spirit of the Borrowers stories while creating a beautiful and sophisticated spin on the books.
It's worth noting that The Secret World of Arrietty arrives in US theaters as the Studio Ghibli Film Retrospective continues its tour of various cities including Los Angeles, Chicago, Toronto, Boston and Seattle.
For many longtime Miyazaki fans, some who are also parents, the timing is perfect to introduce their children to the latest Studio Ghibli release in addition to some of their classic titles.
The constant gags and action of a Hollywood animated feature like Kung Fu Panda 2 offer a great time at the movies. The Secret World of Arrietty shows that animated storytelling can also be substantial, deep and still capable of drawing children into a world of wonder.
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Scriptwriter: Hayao Miyazaki, Keiko Niwa, based on the Borrowers stories by Mary Norton
Cast: Bridgit Mendler, Amy Poehler, Carol Burnett, Will Arnett, David Henrie, Moises Arias
Cinematographer: Atsushi Okui
Editor: Rie Matsubara
Composer: Cécile Corbel, Dale Sison
Running Time: 94 minutes
Producers: Studio Ghibli, Dentsu, Walt Disney Company, Toho Company
Rating: Rated G