The Secret World of Arrietty

Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Starring: Bridgit Mendler, David Henrie, Amy Poehler, Will Arnett, Carol Burnett
Review: 4.5 stars (of five)

Whether it is Chihiro tapping the toes of her tennis shoes to make sure they are snug in Spirited Away, or how the first piece of bacon that Sophie puts in the pan cooks fastest in Howl’s Moving Castle; one of the qualities that make Hayao Miyazaki films so special is their fantastic attention to small details. So perhaps it is only fitting that Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli have tackled the small and fantastically detailed The Secret World of Arrietty.

Arrietty is another triumph for the studio which has positioned itself as the anti-Disney, telling stories centered around strong female protagonists who aspire to more in life than to simply get married. Any parent seeking respite from the relentless assault of “Disney Princesses” will delight in emotional depth of Arrietty. This is not to suggest that the story is only suitable for girls—far from it. Arrietty’s attention to storytelling and craft should delight boys and girls, young and old, alike.

The story is “borrowed” from—suitably enough—The Borrowers, a classic children’s story about little people that live under the floorboards, and borrow from humans the small things they need to live while living in desperate fear of getting caught. Arreitty, a young borrower, strikes up an unlikely—and perhaps unwise—friendship with the new human being in the house Sean, and together they must save her family from discovery.

Instead of romantic love, Miyazaki’s story explores platonic friendship, the importance of family and the way a child deals with loss and even death. These are heavy topics that could easily crush a lesser film, but which are handled so deftly here that your children won’t even notice. My two girls marched around the house for a week, putting on Arrietty plays, wielding push-pin swords and living a life of adventure that large people like myself can only dream of.

As is typical for Studio Ghibli, the animation is superb, and proves that while Pixar is great; old-fashioned 2-D, hand-painted animation has not lost its ability to enchant and entertain. While the theater we screened the film at failed to change the lens on the projector from 3-D, causing the movie to display darker than it should (boo!), The Secret World of Arrietty is bright and colorful and full of the kind of attention to detail that makes the film seem alive and more real than many movies featuring human actors.

The English voice acting is again top-notch, led by real-life couple Will Arnett and Amy Poehler as Arrietty’s parents and veteran actress Carol Burnett provides a wonderful villain in support as a housekeeper determined to uncover the secrets of the little people.

For parents that bemoan the lack of quality movies to take their children to, here is your chance to put your money where your mouth is. Avoid the noisy, insipid and rehashed dreck of Star Wars 3-D and Journey 2 (also in 3-D), and reward a film that will fire the imaginations of children for years to come. Discover The Secret World of Arrietty together.