The Secret World of Arrietty Directed by: Hiromasa Yonebayashi Cast: (voices of) Bridgit Mendler, Amy Poehler, Will Arnett, Carol Burnett Running Time: 1 hr 35 mins Rating: G Release Date: February 17, 2012
PLOT: A four-inch-tall girl named Arrietty (Mendler) lives under a house with her parents (Arnett and Poehler). Their harmless life is threatened when they are discovered by a sick boy named Shawn.
WHO'S IT FOR?: The typical enchantment of Arrietty won't lose kids, but the slow pacing will. This one is for young ones who don't even hesitate to opt for the apple slices when ordering fast food. With its detailed animation and a script co-written by the legendary Hayao Miyazaki, it'll likely satisfy animation nerds most of all.
EXPECTATIONS: This originally Japanese movie comes from Studio Ghibli, the animation deities well known for movies like Ponyo or even My Neighbor Totoro (they're the guys that Pixar folk look up to). I was curious to see how this movie would be able to offer beautiful animation while sharing an already told story. Before this movie started, I wasn't sure if there was a definite need for another borrowers story.
Bridgit Mendler as Arrietty: The rising Disney star ("Wizards of Waverly Place" and Lemonade Mouth) provides a harmless voicing to a character that fits all the expectations when a young person meets adventure. She is innocent, peppy, headstrong, naive, and most importantly, likable. Score: 5
Amy Poehler and Will Arnett as Homily and Pod: It's a nice surprise to hear real-life married couple Poehler and Arnett give such a restrained and unique turn as Arreitty's parents. The usually quirky Poelher adds a little scratch and a dash of eloquence to her voice to fit neatly into the role of Homily, an uneasy older woman who seems to spend half of her time in panic. Arnett uses his low voice to a calming effect, and gives the family leader Pod an undeniable stoicism. He speaks calmly and with patience, his stone face not losing its toughness even during Arrietty's clumsier moments. Score: 6
Carol Burnett as Hara: Aside from a pesky, cat-hating crow, Hara is the only villain in The Secret World of Arrietty. She suffers from a lack of understanding the lives of others, and also a lack of color. This is far from a challenging or new depiction of a crotchety type. Whether it's Burnett or the script, Hara isn't even the fun type of cynic. She's just a buzzkill. Score: 3
TALKING: With the English dubbing fitting into the originally Japanese mouths of the characters, the dialogue of Arrietty is simple. Even the idea behind "borrowing" is described in direct sentences (though we don't know if the "borrowers" actually give anything back). The dialogue is guilty of some fluff, especially when Arrietty declares, "Sometimes, you have to stand up and fight!" Even kids are going to yawn at that one. Score: 5
SIGHTS: The movie's mini world allows the animation to flourish with strong attention to tiny details. Similar to something we might see in a Toy Story movie, Arrietty shows off believable small-world gymnastics. The characters don't just sit on some leaf and get blown around, they live within a tangible environment. The visuals of Arrietty shine best when they can show more depth than detail; moments outside will give animation fans the pleasing aesthetics they crave from a movie by Studio Ghibli. Score: 8
SOUNDS: Detailed sound design provides a big picture to even the smallest of things, or the quietest of rooms. Guitars, flutes, and melodicas make up the film's score, which sounds more countryside than directly country. Bridgit Mendler throws in a song during the end credits, "Summertime," which sells soundtracks at the sake of making little sense to the movie's actual content. Score: 5
BEST SCENE: It's not easy for me to pick a scene that really stands out, but I can pick a shot: the moment in which Arrietty stands on the post, saying her goodbye to Shawn, is done in a beautiful wide shot that also displays the world that is much bigger than the both of them.
ENDING: The size-challenged friendship reaches an end as the two move on from the eye-opening experience to start new lives.
QUESTIONS: Of all the stories in the world, why another borrowers tale? How well could such a story even do with regular American kids? What's the marketing like for this movie?
REWATCHABILITY: Unless someone really hooks onto the story, or wants to play this movie silently during a pretentious party, Arrietty is scant on replay value. I don't think kids will disagree either.
With its dedicated visuals that labor intensely on the smallest details, Arrietty feels a little too typical with its characters and slow-moving story. Pretty imagery can only provide so much of an enchanting sense before the script stands on its own, and dully so. As the events of Arrietty crawl along, this labored rehashing can feel as overwrought as the rhetorical quip "Why don't you pick on someone your own size?"
FINAL SCORE: 5/10