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The Secret World of Ariettey

March 1, 2012

Three years ago I was introduced to Studio Ghibil, an animation studio headed by acclaimed Anime director Hayao Miyazaki. I had long heard of the company’s films Kiki’s Delivery Service and Spirited Away yet my lack of interest in Anime at the time prevented me from ever seeking them out. As the years went by and my taste for cinema developed, curiosity led me to Spirited Away. To this day I still find myself befuddled by its ability to go over my head with themes of eternal life and reincarnation yet also entertain me through elements of visual fantasy. I graduated on to nearly every breathtakingly beautiful film directed by Studio Ghibil founder Miyazaki with a detour to fellow founder and director Isao Takahata’s powerfully heartbreaking Grave of the Fireflies. Although I don’t consider every film in the Studio Ghibil/Miyazaki canon to be immaculate, I consider each one examples of exemplary movie magic and gems in the animation genre. All have introduced me into a new world that has stuck with me since first viewing. I still get goosebumps whenever I watch Princess Mononoke and am overcome by nostalgia at the though of Porco Rosso.

Yet despite my fandom I’ve never been able to bring myself to critically analyze Miyazaki’s films. I’ve always found it hard to review these films in fear of it being a biased gush or reverting back to my undergrad years by attempting to write a paper on the themes of childhood adolescence through lighting or fear of the mechanical world through modes of editing. Studio Ghibil’s newest film, The Secret World of Arrietty, is sans the deep thinking however, possibly because it was adapted from an already shopped around tale and novel The Borrowers. Whatever the reasons, The Secret World of Arrietty is one of the simplest and straightforward escapism fantasy films that I’ve ever seen. There’s nothing to “get” or “understand,” sure there’s themes of death and the end of adolescence but The Secret World of Arietty is the type of movie that just wants to you buckle up and enjoy the ride. And what a fantastic ride it is.

Arrietty (Bridgit Mendler) is a borrower, a family of small beings that live in the cracks and crevices of homes. They’re more civilized than rats and rodents but are mere legends to “Beings.” Arriety lives a simple life, gathering supplies from the garden of her Beings home to decorate with until the ill and feeble Shawn moves in to get some rest and relaxation with his aunt before having heart surgery. Shawn sees Arrietty upon first arriving at the home and soon makes her acquaintance as he becomes aware of her, her mother Homily (Amy Poehler) and father Pod (Will Arnett). Afraid of the consequences of being seen, Arrietty’s family decides its best to move to avoid Shawn’s growing curiosity as well as that of the snooping housekeeper Hara (Carol Burnett).

The simplistic straight forward story allows audiences to become completely submersed into the fantastical story of Arrietty and her family and the films direction and screenplay makes the submersion just as deep as possible through fine toothed detail of nearly every image on screen. Walls of Arrietty’s room is littered in decorations of buttons, bay leaves, broken pencils as trophies, berries, petals, and caps. Walls aren’t just objects of background invisibility, they breath life complete with details of intricate patterns, glossy finishes, and deep textures, an impressive feat for an animated film.

Trough elaborate use of water colors and paint, trees seem to possess an infinite amount of leaves, colors are flamboyant, and grass is vibrant and lively. Light shows different shades and colored effects on objects. The hand-drawn animation mixed with conventional directing methods and computer generated images make for amazing animated segments that Miyazaki has been perfecting for years. Arrietty’s world is like reading those I Spy books as a kid where you can get lost finding objects among countless trinkets.

I’m trying to think of one flaw or weak moment in the film but I can’t. The Secret World of Arrietty is everything a film should be and nearly every aspect of it is perfectly done. The editing is tight and concise, the sound design is lavish with exaggerated sounds that create a depth and focus to how the tiny world of Arietty’s interacts with the gigantic world of Beings. Even the physics of how rain droplets stick to skin of borrowers is shown almost poetically. The Secret World of Arrietty is awesome, and not in a judgment of “good” or “bad” but in the sense that it’s the type of movie that will make you “ohh” and “ahh” when you notice its attention to detail. It’s the perfect mode of escapism that draws the audience into its world making it so believable that you may start looking for little people in your home when you realize your food in dwindling… or just finally confront Steve.

SEE IT. It needs to be experienced in theaters.

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