The Borrower Arrietty (reviews - page 1)

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10 March 2012


By Ben Ettinger

I saw The Secret World of Arrietty in the theater last night. I had low expectations going in, but unfortunately they were met. While on the surface this is a lush film that vividly brings alive the small world of Arrietty, it is Ghibli lite: all of the vivid coloring, enjoyable character animation, carefully pleasing scene presentation, believable if idealized characterizations, and charming atmosphere, without the substance.

Like all of their previous films not directed by the two founders, Arrietty is directed by a first-time feature director, and clearly suffers for it. Ghibli is still flopping around frantically trying to find its next generation of directors. Two decades on, it feels like we're re-treading what happened with I Can Hear the Sea (1993), when Ghibli tried to bring in a new face - Tomomi Mochizuki seemed like the perfect fit - but wound up creating a bland and forgettable teen drama that had nothing of the fire we expect from the two founders, only the shell of a Ghibli appearance.

They tried again with the very talented Hiroyuki Morita and The Cat Returns (2002), this time in the fantasy vein, but while the film was pleasing and somewhat different in style, it was paper-thin and only served to underline how few directors were even close to the level of the two founders. The next attempt in 2006 with Tales from Earthsea was in my estimation the studio's most disappointing and even repugnant chapter. Bypassing the many talented directors in the industry for Miyazaki's son was a repudiation of the philosophy of craft the studio stood for, as if they had given up on industry-fostered talent and were placing their last bet on an absurd belief in hereditary talent straight out of Francis Galton. Ironically, the most successful attempt was Whisper of the Heart (1995), whose director died not long afterwards.

Nobody will ever be able to replace or replicate Miyazaki. The sooner Ghibli realizes this, the better. Arrietty was a film that seemed perpetually on the verge: On the verge of going somewhere, and on the verge of attaining Miyazaki's level. But it never did. Given a situation with many similarities to Totoro, at no point did I feel any sort of magic or wonder as I did at every point of Miyazaki's film while the protagonists ran around exploring their new home and the surrounding forest. Everything here was sullen, dull, dreary. There was not a moment of dynamism in the film, of surprise, wonder, any sort of explosion of built-up dramatic tension. It was too one-note.

As in Totoro, youthful coming-of-age and awakening were contrasted with illness and fatality. But Totoro was spontaneous, where Arrietty feels calculated and forced. The scenes with the boy talking about his terminal illness were more awkward than moving. The backdrop of divorce and uncaring parents was hinted at in passing in a way that felt like nothing more than a backhanded attempt at a stock Ghibli storytelling convention.

The all-important animation, while lush, never felt immediate. The planning of scenes felt limp, without any unexpected or creative angles or compositions. The characters were generic Ghibli in a way I've never felt before. Ghibli characters always have a that identifiable Ghibli look, but here they were bland to look at in a way that I never felt they were in previous Ghibli outings. Take Hara, for example. Her face wasn't stylized in a way that I found interesting or believable. The old lady who bakes the cake for Kiki in Kiki's Delivery Service felt like a far better rendered and realized spinster, her design and behavior informed by reality just enough to make her feel like an individual. Hara felt too generic, without personality. She felt like a caricature without feeling real, there only because they needed a baddie to capture Homily. It wouldn't be Miyazaki if we didn't simultaneously sympathize with her, but she seemed so shallow and one-dimensional.

The only sequence of animation that stood out to me as feeling particularly interesting was the bit where Homily is captured, and I was disheartened to discover upon looking into it later that, surprise, surprise, it was done by Shinji Otsuka, the guy who in Ghibli film after Ghibli film can be relied upon to provide the one scene that stands out as having the most fun character animation. There were certainly nice enough other moments of animation, like the crow scene, but the exuberant animation felt wasted on a scene that didn't have any dramatic impact, that felt like it was just hitting a milestone in the Ghibli template of necessary pacing tempo shifts.

The whole didn't gel into a compelling world. That is Miyazaki's unique genius. He effortlessly elides elements in a way that doesn't leave you wondering. I came away from Arrietty wondering why this and that had been brought up without any followup. The pacing feels halting and the atmosphere curiously empty, whereas even throwaway scenes in Miyazaki's films always have something to pull you in and carry you along with the flow. I don't think it's unfair to compare the film to Miyazaki, because that's clearly exactly what they set out to achieve. Plus he planned and co-wrote the film.

Speaking of the crow, he was one of the threads that led nowhere. He seemed poised to be such an interesting character, with that great window attack scene (which actually dragged on a bit too long), but then he disappears without a trace. The cat was a jumble too. While hardly original, he could have been a fun character, but his character wasn't consistent at all. Why was he lunging with bloodthirsty eyes at Arrietty one moment only to suddenly turn into Lassie at the end. Also, in that close-up shot of him near the end, he was drawn as this big benevolent furry blob that bore an uncanny resemblance to Totoro. The Jimsy-like Spiller who was introduced as the Arrietty love interest never did much of anything. It's too little too late having him give Arrietty a berry during the credit sequence.

My favorite thing about the film was the backgrounds. They clearly put a tremendous amount of effort into the backgrounds. The backgrounds carry the film. They're what keep the audience interested. More than any previous Ghibli film, Arrietty seems reliant on the background art to create atmosphere and convey information about the world inhabited by the protagonists. The problem is that the backgrounds communicate more than the script and the animation, and as a result, the film feels somewhat static. Throughout the duration of the film, I found that most of my time was spent with my eyes wandering around the screen absorbing the details in the backgrounds.

But I feel like the Grinch saying all this. Believe it or not, I actually liked Arrietty. It's a hard film to dislike, unlike Earthsea. Everyone in the theater seemed rather pleased by the film. It's not bad or unpleasant at all. It's just harmless. It probably set out to be low key, and its slow pace sets it apart from the other Ghibli films in a good way; it has its own atmosphere without striving too much for the fantasy affect of Miyazaki. Perhaps that is the direction to go to eventually discover a new Ghibli voice. In tone it's perhaps closest to Kiki, but less fluffy and sentimental.

What is the right answer to the question of whether Ghibli should continue copying the Miyazaki template, or strike out in a different direction and potentially wind up doing something that nobody wants to see from Ghibli? In all fairness, the former seems like the only possible answer.

One last thing: I was disappointed by the credit sequence. They did the same thing they did in Ponyo, alphabetizing the names. Where's the progress? I expected the letters of every staff member's name to be randomly scrambled and placed into a large block of text. It's so vain of them to list the names of the people who worked on the film.

Associated Press

13 February 2012

Review: 'Borrowers' tale 'Arrietty' has warm charm

By David Germain

Considering the eccentric, almost psychedelic fantasy worlds created in Japanese animation master Hayao Miyazaki's tales, a story of tiny people living beneath the floorboards of a house seems almost normal.

"The Secret World of Arrietty," from Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli, also is a pleasant antidote to the siege mentality of so many Hollywood cartoons, whose makers aim to occupy every instant of the audience's attention with an assault of noise and images.

Slow, stately, gentle and meditative, "Arrietty" nevertheless is a marvel of image and color, its old-fashioned pen-and-ink frames vividly bringing to life the world of children's author Mary Norton's "The Borrowers."

Already a hit in Japan, "Arrietty" has undergone the typically classy English-language transformation that Disney renders to Studio Ghibli's films, among them Miyazaki's Academy Award-winning "Spirited Away."

What U.S. audiences get is a hybrid — the grandly fluid picture-book imagery of first-time feature director Hiromasa Yonebayashi, a veteran Studio Ghibli animator, merged with an English-language rendering of Miyazaki's screenplay, Oscar-winning sound designer Gary Rydstrom directing a Hollywood voice cast that includes Carol Burnett, Amy Poehler and Will Arnett.

Previously adapted in the 1997 live-action slapstick comedy "The Borrowers," Norton's stories follow the adventures of a family of teeny people who live off things scavenged from nature or from the oversized human world that's unaware of the existence of this miniature race.

Spirited 14-year-old Arrietty (voiced by Bridgit Mendler, star of Disney Channel's "Good Luck Charlie") lives with her mom and dad (real-life couple Poehler and Arnett) and is about to join in on her first borrowing expedition to fetch back supplies from the "human beans" living upstairs.

Yet Arrietty violates the rules — she's seen by Shawn (David Henrie of Disney Channel's "Wizards of Waverly Place"), a sickly youth who has come to stay in the country with his aunt.

What could turn into boy-meets-girl, boy-squashes-girl-like-a-bug instead becomes a sweet, chaste, sort-of first love story. Arrietty sheds her inbred borrower's fear of humans, and Shawn proves a tender soul who understands the fragile existence of his small friend and her kind, doing what he can to help.

The filmmakers inject a bit of tension and some laughs through busybody housekeeper Haru (voiced with joyful, gradually increasing lunacy by Burnett), who sets out to capture the borrowers for her own mad purposes.

The women of "Arrietty" definitely get the good parts. Mendler plays the title role with vivacity and a spirit of wonder, while Poehler manages nice laughs with her squawky, frantic vocals. Henrie and Arnett, on the other hand, are vocal rocks, solid but impassive, inexpressive. Arnett applies the same deadpan voice he uses to great comic result in live-action roles, but the effect falls flat without his own almost-smirking poker face to go along.

The movie also overdoses on sweetener with its saccharine theme songs — one co-written and performed by Cecile Corbel, one written and performed by Mendler.

The warm simplicity of the story and the cleverness and artistry of the animation make up for any vocal shortcomings, though.

It's delightful, the ways the borrowers make essential tools out of found objects we take for granted — a leaf as an umbrella, nails to create stairs or staples to build ladders, strips of duct tape to help scale walls.

The wonder the film reveals in the mundane is what makes "The Secret World of Arrietty" such a fantastic place to visit.

"The Secret World of Arrietty," a Disney release, is rated G. Running time: 94 minutes. Three stars out of four.

Boston Globe

17 February 2012

Borrowed time, but time well spent
Animation god crafts ‘Arrietty’ from classic story

By Ty Burr

"The Secret World of Arrietty’’ offers a curious and mostly congenial case of cinematic fusion cuisine. Based on Mary Norton’s 1952 children’s classic “The Borrowers’’ - already the foundation for several TV series and a 1997 live-action movie - it has been taken up by Japan’s Studio Ghibli, with a screenplay by the legendary animation god Hayao Miyazaki. Since he didn’t direct (former Ghibli key animator Hiromasa Yonebayashi did), the movie is lesser Miyazaki, but not by terribly much.

Three inches tall, the title character (voiced by Bridgit Mendler of the Disney Channel sitcom “Good Luck Charlie’’) lives beneath a house in the countryside with her fretful mother and terse father (comedians and real-life husband and wife Amy Poehler and Will Arnett). At night they sneak out to scavenge household items and steer clear of cats and crows. The arrival of a sickly, young, normal-size human named Shawn (David Henrie) gives Arrietty her first real friend, but any sighting by a “Bean’’ means the little folk have to move on. But move to where? There may not be any other of their kind left.

Complicating matters is a nosy housekeeper (voiced by Carol Burnett) who hopes to capture a Borrower and who’s the source of some noisy slapstick in the second half of the movie. Until then, “The Secret World of Arrietty’’ plays out with a mixture of wonderment and hush. Seen from the Borrowers’ point of view, the human world is a fantastic, perilous landscape, where pins become swords and crossing a nighttime kitchen involves serious parkour skills. (Some smaller audience members may relate.)

The environment outside the house is no less daunting, with its wide, impossibly green fields of grass, scary/cute insects, and those Miyazaki clouds that float serenely above everything. A gentle surrealism washes through the film, along with a sense of melancholy that positions it between the fairy-tale beauty of “My Neighbor Totoro’’ and the whimsy of “Kiki’s Delivery Service’’ (and well short of the sometimes frightening intensity of “Spirited Away’’). Loss is just beyond the horizon here, with Shawn fearing his upcoming heart operation and Arrietty facing the extinction of her people.

Sounds like Ingmar Bergman for kiddies, but it’s hardly that, since the Ghibli wizards instinctively know how to balance darkness and light and there are laughs here. At the technical level, “The Secret World of Arrietty’’ isn’t as ambitious as the studio’s finest work, and the animation is stronger on texture than detail. But the film flatters young moviegoers’ awareness of deeper matters while delivering just enough enchantment to beguile both them and their parents.

The US English-language dubbing job (written by Karey Kirkpatrick and directed by Gary Rydstrom) is a cut above, too, although purists will hold out for a subtitled original and some of us are curious about a British-produced dub that casts “Atonement’’ star Saoirse Ronan as Arrietty. Still, no matter the language and even in less masterful hands, Miyazaki’s art aches loud and clear. - The Stir

17 February 2012

'Secret World of Arrietty' Review: Finally a Disney Heroine Worth Sharing With Our Daughters

By Jeanne Sager

When my kid started bugging me about seeing The Secret World of Arrietty because she'd seen the movie trailer on TV, there was something vaguely familiar about the title. Arrietty. Arrietty. Where had I heard that name before?

It wasn't until I was sitting down one night actually watching the Disney Channel with her that it clicked. THAT Arrietty! The teeny weeny little girl who lives in the floorboards of a house! I remember her! Long before she was re-created for the big screen by legendary Japanese manga artist Hayao Miyazaki and voiced by up-and-coming teen star Bridget Mendler, Arrietty Clock was one of my heroes. And now Disney's bringing a new brand of girl power to the masses.

Parents like me remember the little spitfire from the classic children's book series The Borrowers by Mary Norton (quick bit of trivia, Norton also wrote the story turned into one of my all time favorite kiddie flicks: Bedknobs and Broomsticks). But Disney's decision to take a movie created in Japan and re-voice it with American actors -- including Will Arnett and Amy Poehler -- seems to be as much about image as it does nostalgia. They're adding another strong female into their arsenal of characters to market to little girls.

The company has made a point of responding to the modern parents' complaint that the princesses of old were wilting wallflowers completely dependent on a man. The results have been spunky princesses like Tiana and Rapunzel and the upcoming Brave, the first Pixar film to feature a powerful female as the main character.

And parents should add Arrietty to that list. Sitting in the theater, I was drawn in by the delicate details of the manga style. But for my 6-year-old, it was all about the story: a teenage girl who lives beneath the floorboards of a proper house with her parents Homily and Pod. The wee creatures make their way in the world by "borrowing" from the human beings above -- only as much as they need. But being seen by one of those humans is out of the question ... until it happens to Arrietty.

Her relationship with a human boy named Sean is the catalyst for the type of action that will thrill the little ones. Her fearless attitude, even in the face of a cat who is 20 times her size, a human boy who is the equivalent of a skyscraper, and a wily housekeeper (Carol Burnett) intent on capturing her, saves the movie for young fans.

It's what kept my 6-year-old rapt, rooting for her new hero. And I'll be honest, I worried a half hour in that Arrietty wouldn't hold her interest. The film is slow moving, focused more on the lush renderings of the scene. That's fine for adults, but American kids tend to expect more. The voice cast is hampered by the need to match their lines to the Japanese style of simple nods rather than complicated conversations. Expect a lot of "uh huh" instead of "yes, blah, blah, blah."

But my daughter walked out of Arrietty with a new role model, the kind that a mother hopes her little girl will connect with. Next up: the bookstore to gather all the Mary Norton books to satisfy her questions about what happens next.

What kind of character are you looking for your daughter to look up to? Does Arrietty fit the bill?

CBS Local Philadelphia

16 February 2012

Movie Review: ‘The Secret World of Arrietty’

By Bill Wine

The Secret World of Arrietty is an animated family fable that’s hand-drawn and thus not as flashy as some CGI offerings but that grows on you little by little.

And “little” is the operative word here.

The Clock family are miniature people (four inches tall — we’re talking tiny) who live surreptitiously beneath the floorboards in a regular-sized human family’s residence in contemporary Tokyo.

Arrietty (voiced by Bridgit Mendler), the daughter, is a headstrong 14-year-old who lives with her parents (Amy Poehler and Will Arnett) under a suburban home undetected by anyone in the mansion overhead, including the suspicious housekeeper (Carol Burnett).

That’s because the diminutive lodgers remain out of view unless they need to emerge from underneath the floorboards to “borrow” something they really need to survive from their enormous homeowners (whom they call human “beans”), such as a tissue or a sugar cube.

So, they scavenge for food and for household items that won’t be missed while they are put to ingenious uses, and they try to stay out of the way of cats, crows, and especially beans.

As we first look in on them, it’s that time in life when the tiny teenage title character is about to go out on her first borrowing, accompanied by her dad, for whom the excursion is merely an ordinary errand, while for Arrietty it’s both an adventure and a passage.

But all that changes for the Borrowers when a bedridden 12-year-old named Shawn (David Henrie), who lives with his great-aunt and has a congenital heart condition, discovers and befriends Arrietty.

When Arrietty’s parents learn that they have been discovered, they determine that the Clocks must move out of their host house.

Debuting director Hiromasa Yonebayashi establishes his upstairs-downstairs premise immediately and efficiently, then easily engages his young audience’s sense of wonder with both the beauty and danger of nature.

This animé is an English-language version of 2010′s top-grossing hit at the Japanese box office, known there as The Borrower Arrietty. It’s a perspective-altering delight with a fascinating forced perspective as it explores the theme of the need to investigate the big world out there despite its inherent scariness.

Although it’s somewhat more modestly scaled, it’s in the tradition of such beloved Japanimated favorites as Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke, Mr. Howl’s Castle [sic], and Ponyo, all directed by ani-maestro Hayao Miyazaki.

It’s Miyazaki who developed this film and co-wrote the captivating screenplay with Keiko Niwa based on Mary Norton’s 1952 children’s fantasy novel The Borrowers, that was turned into a live-action film in 1998.

Like those previous versions, this one was inspired by the universal whimsical phenomenon of missing household items and just where they might be disappearing to.

The animation is textured and colorful and generously detailed but delicate, while the thoughtful screenplay speaks to the heart and imagination of children everywhere.

So we’ll borrow 3½ stars out of 4 for this gentle, G-rated, jumbo-shrimp adventure for the kids.

The secret’s out: The Secret World of Arrietty is more than a little enchanting.

Chicago Tribune

16 February 2012

'Secret World of Arrietty': An animation style worth borrowing ✭✭✭ 1/2
Builds on the success of 'Ponyo,' 'Howl's Moving Castle' for Studio Ghibli

By Michael Phillips

Compared to so much American animation, which seems hellbent on putting a global audience of addled kids in a paradoxical manic stupor, the work ofJapan's Studio Ghibli sets its own pace, establishes its own, meticulously observed realms of the fantastic and respects a moviegoer's senses — any moviegoer's, of any age.

"The Secret World of Arrietty"is the latest import from the collective responsible for "Princess Mononoke," "Spirited Away," "Howl's Moving Castle" (a clear inspiration for Disney-Pixar's "Up") and, more recently, "Ponyo." A big success in Japan and elsewhere, "Arrietty" opens this week in a slightly Americanized edition overseen and released by Disney. It's lovely, both in spirit and in its simple, supple, hand-drawn visual allure.

The story comes from Mary Norton's book "The Borrowers" (in Japan, the film was titled "The Borrower Arrietty"), so if you or your child happened to read one or more of the "Borrowers" books, there's another access point for you. Arrietty, 14 and ready to bloom, lives under the floorboards of a house with her equally miniature father and mother. While dodging the odd house cat, they "borrow" what they need to survive from their unwitting, full-size human hosts: a sugar cube here, a knickknack there.

When a visiting full-scale human teenager discovers Arrietty, the wee family's safety is threatened, and the full-size cranky housekeeper's suspicions become well and truly roused. But this tale of friendship, and of responsible, imaginative recycling of the earth's material goods, is a warm, comforting breeze of a picture. The perils remain ever-present in Arrietty's world, and her family's plight echoes once and future refugees the world over. But the narrative breathes; it doesn't conspire every minute to work on an audience's nerves or its sense of narrative dread.

Three years ago Disney's American release of "Ponyo"didn't find the audience it deserved. "The Secret World of Arrietty" is even more deserving of an audience, though its voice casting neither helps nor hinders those chances. Disney TV star Bridgit Mendler brings an effective if limited friendliness to Arrietty; Will Arnett and Amy Poehler are relatively restrained as her parents; Carol Burnett runs through a career's worth of vocal flourishes and aural panic attacks as the housekeeper. Disney can be thanked for leaving first-time director Hiromasa Yonebayashi's feature more or less alone. (The script is by the great Hayao Miyazaki, co-founder of Studio Ghibli and an inspiration to countless animators and directors.) Will its easygoing charm be enough for the average American preteen consumer, already flattened by one too many "Ice Ages"? There's only one way to find out.

Chicago Sun-Times

17 February 2012

Tiny spirits hit big screen in ‘Arrietty’

By Nell Minow

A spirited heroine and an enchantingly beautiful setting make a story of friendship and courage beguiling in “The Secret of Arrietty,” Studio Ghibli’s adaptation of Mary Norton’s popular Borrowers books. First published in the mid-1950s, they’re based on a fanciful but entirely plausible explanation for the disappearance of small household items. Norton contends they are taken by “Borrowers,” tiny people who live inside the walls and beneath the floorboards. We never see them because they are terrified of what they call “human beans.”

The story begins as two big changes happen in a charming country cottage. A four-inch 14-year-old named Arrietty (Bridgit Mendler) is finally old enough to embark on her first borrowing expedition, in search of sugar and facial tissue. She’s the only daughter of stalwart provider Pod and anxious homemaker Homily (real-life sitcom star spouses Will Arnett and Amy Poehler), who fear they may be the last Borrowers left in the world.

A frail “bean” boy named Shawn (David Henrie) arrives at the cottage, where he will be cared for until he has surgery. Both the human and the Borrower children will ignore the warnings of the adults around them to learn about each other’s worlds and then to become friends.

It seems only fair that a story about borrowing should itself borrow so seamlessly across borders of time, geography and culture. Norton’s British mid-century story, Ghibli’s Japanese animation and American distributor Disney-selected voice talent all complement settings that are not so much regionless as an idyllic pan-global amalgamation. Less universally appealing is the script. It is more linear than many Studio Ghibli films but the dialogue is stiff and the jokes are clunky, even delivered by reliable comic actors Arnett, Poehler and Carol Burnett as the housekeeper who brings in exterminators to capture the Borrowers.

Studio Ghibli and screenwriter-producer Hayao Mi­yazaki are justly famous as masters of gorgeous hand-painted watercolor backgrounds that evoke an enticing vision of lush gardens and inviting living spaces. Instead of the hyper-reality of digitally created CGI images in most of today’s animated films, the hand-painted world of “Arrietty” is dreamy but tactile, with ladybugs shaking fat dew drops from velvety leaves and an exquisitely furnished dollhouse of interest to the large and small residents of the cottage. But the backgrounds are so gorgeously painted that by comparison the characters can look underdrawn, like paper dolls with large but unexpressive, Keane-like eyes.

The animators have a lot of fun with scale, as they go back and forth between the “bean”-sized world and the tiny replica inhabited by the Borrowers. Each image is filled with captivating detail with items from one world re-contextualized in another. In their own little quarters, “borrowed” items are cleverly repurposed by Pod and Homily with detail that makes us wish for a pause button. One sugar cube seems small in a bowl on the “bean’s” table. But for Arrietty, it is nearly as wide as her shoulders, as a grub is the size of an armadillo, a rat is the size of a lion, and a pin a sword. The angles are superbly used to establish the perspective of the tiny Borrowers. Scaling the “bean” kitchen table looks vertiginous.

What’s most effective is the way the sense of peaceful shelter and retreat in the country setting contrasts with the precariousness of the situations faced by Shawn and Arrietty. He soberly faces the possibility that he might not survive his surgery, and she risks her life whenever she leaves her home. The drama is deepened, too, by the contrast between Shawn’s physical fragility and Arrietty’s robust energy. He can hardly walk across the garden without stopping to catch his breath while she rappels over the household furniture as though she is scaling Everest. But both learn from each other and their tentative steps toward friendship are sweetly expressed.