ARRIETY Review: Derivative But Heart-Warming

While Arrietty lacks the originality and imagination of many in the Studio Ghibli catalogue, it has the heart, warmth and beauty of its predecessors and is certain to leave you feeling moved.

rating: 3

The latest offering from Studio Ghibli is a delightful and moving adaptation of the series of classic novels, The Borrowers by Mary Norton. Co-written by, but not directed by the guru of Ghibli animation, Hayao Miyazaki, Arrietty continues the studio€™s recent tradition of graduating animators into the position of director, with Hiromasa Yonebayashi taking the reins and admirably embracing the style and sentiments of the studio. The film chronicles the adventures of a family of borrowers - father, mother and daughter - who live in secret under the floorboards and inside the walls of a country home, surviving on the items they €˜borrow€™ from the family who inhabit the home. Their peaceful existence is put in jeopardy when the titular Arrietty €“ the daughter €“ on her first expedition with her father, is spotted by Sho, a young boy who is staying at the idyllic country house they inhabit. What follows is a Romeo and Juliet style platonic romance between Sho and Arrietty; she is forbidden by her family from fraternising with Sho, while the maid of the house quickly becomes aware of the borrowers existence and calls an exterminator. The animation is of the usual flawless standard and unique style of Ghibli; a sumptuous pallet of bright and warm colours create this idyllic country home and setting of the piece that is more than reminiscent of My Neighbour Tototo. The score deserves specific praise; Cécile Corbel€™s Celtic harps are wonderfully employed to take us into the bucolic setting. Even more impressive is the fact the French born singer not just plays an instrument foreign to her motherland, but sings in Japanese. It will be a great shame if her theme song Karigurashi no Arrietty fails to receive an Oscar nomination. And the vocal talents are once more of the highest standard; it is a further testament to the popularity of Ghibli that distributors Disney (US) and Optimum (UK) have recruited two different casts to gear the dubs specifically to audiences in the different territories. Saoirse Ronan and Tom Holland really capture the innocence of youth; their voice performances offer great depth and range to the characters. And Mark Strong is suitably stoic as the patriarch of the little family fighting for their lives. Those who are not familiar with the novels, 90€™s BBC TV series starring Ian Holm, or the American movie starring John Goodman will find Arrietty just as original and imaginative as Spirited Away and Howl€™s Moving Castle; while others, including myself, will be left underwhelmed and concerned by the studio€™s recent spate of remaking classics, after Ponyo so closely resembled The Little Mermaid. Although even this is harsh, as Ponyo, like Arrietty, was an adaptation in the truest sense of the world, as opposed to a straight remake, so prevalent in Hollywood at the moment. Both Ghibli€™s recent titles have a flare and sense of reinvention to meet Japanese sensibilities as well as making them accessible to international audiences and satisfying to Ghibli die-hards. Arrietty contains the values and conventions that are synonymous with Ghibli€™s catalogue: magic, mystery, family, friendship and the power of faith to overcome the greatest of emotional and physical hardships. The latter two are embodied by Sho and a hard condition that he is suffering from, which may end his life prematurely. These are deep issues, which I feel for many years now have differentiated the studio€™s works from that of Pixar and Dreamworks. Though still ostensibly for a children€™s audience, they don€™t shy away from the darker matters of life, but treat them with such decency and delicacy it transcends age barriers. While Arrietty lacks the originality and imagination of many in the Studio Ghibli catalogue, it has the heart, warmth and beauty of its predecessors and is certain to leave you feeling moved. Arrietty is out now in the U.K.
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Frustratingly argumentative writer, eater, reader and fanatical about film ‘n’ food and all things fundamentally flawed. I have been a member of the WhatCulture family since it was known as Obsessed with Film way back in the bygone year of 2010. I review films, festivals, launch events, award ceremonies and conduct interviews with members of the ‘biz’. Follow me @FilmnFoodFan In 2011 I launched the restaurant and food criticism section. I now review restaurants alongside film and the greatest rarity – the food ‘n’ film crossover. Let your imaginations run wild as you mull on what that might look like!