The Borrower Arrietty (reviews - page 3)

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LA Weekly

16 February 2012

The Secret World of Arrietty Review
Will Arnett and Amy Poehler give voice to Studio Ghibli's latest hand-drawn feature

By Aaron Hillis

Synonymous with the humanistic, eco-minded, pastel-hued elegance of Japanese filmmaker and animation virtuoso Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away), Studio Ghibli, which Miyazaki co-founded, has earned its vaunted reputation as Disney's Pixar of the East. Although Miyazaki serves only on the periphery here as co-writer and production supervisor, his soulfulness still radiates through The Secret World of Arrietty, a hand-drawn adaptation of Mary Norton's ageless kid-lit series, The Borrowers, about 4-inch-high humanoids who live beneath the floorboards of those dangerous "human beans."

Within the Ghibli catalog, director Hiromasa Yonebayashi's delicate debut (the English-dubbed version is credited to Gary Rydstrom) is an underplotted, near humorless trifle, but in contrast to the shrill, saccharine CGI cartoons — live-action included — that pass for family entertainment today, it's pure magic.

Fourteen years old and literally knee-high to a kitty cat, inquisitive emblem of purity Arrietty (voiced by Bridgit Mendler) ventures to the idyllic rural home above to forage with her somber father, Pod (Will Arnett, playing against type).

Among her pop's golden rules of "borrowing" is that only necessary items that won't be missed should be pilfered from the humans.

Grappling to ledges with a fish hook and string, a grand nighttime kitchen heist — the front-loaded film's most thrilling sequence — yields one measly sugar cube ... which Arrietty loses when spooked by the gaze of Shawn (David Henrie).

A giant boy with a bum ticker, Shawn has been sent to the house for pre-operative care from an elderly woman and her meddlesome housekeeper (Carol Burnett, adding rubber-voiced charisma as chief antagonist).

Back in the teenier kitchen, anxiety-prone mom Homily (Amy Poehler) flips out over her daughter being spotted by the sickly enemy, who is obviously destined to become Arrietty's only friend and unspoken first crush.

Perhaps too fittingly small-scale, the story is trouble-free to the point that it feels slight, though it's full of gorgeous renderings: Shawn matter-of-factly explains the permanence of death to Arrietty while lying in a field that's alive with lush watercolors.

The otherworldliness that is Miyazaki's trademark has been tamped down into naturalistic textures, but the look is still as meticulous and confident as the master's handiwork.

Beyond the ace animation, there are also inspired sensory delights to be heard, from the sweet theme song by French vocalist/harpist Cécile Corbel to the way a straight pin unsheathes from Arrietty's dress with a loud, metallic clang like a broadsword to the ears of the little people.

Los Angeles Times

17 February 2012

Movie review: 'The Secret World of Arrietty' is impeccable and pure
A family of miniature 'borrowers' living in the shadow of their human-sized counterparts makes for an enchanting setting.

By Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times Film Critic

"Wonder" is the watchword in "The Secret World of Arrietty." Set in an enchanting locale where the potential for magic is everywhere, this impeccable animated film puts its complete trust in the spirit of make-believe. Beautiful, gentle and pure — but not without elements of genuine menace — it will make believers out of adults and children alike.

Based on Mary Norton's celebrated 1952 novel "The Borrowers," "The Secret World of Arrietty" has been on the mind of Japan's Hayao Miyazaki, the great animator of the modern age, for more than 40 years. He did not direct this version himself, but having planned and written the screenplay and hand-picking director Hiromasa Yonebayashi, Miyazaki and his elevating, protective spirit hover over this production like a most benevolent deity.

"Arrietty," the feature debut of Yonebayashi, has many of the trademarks of Miyazaki's magical Studio Ghibli productions, including a reverence for the natural world and the ability to reproduce it in ravishing, hand-drawn animation detail.

Like the Oscar-winning "Spirited Away," "Kiki's Delivery Service" and other Miyazaki works, this film also features an intrepid female hero, a 14-year-old girl brimming with bravery, energy and life. Only this time she is no taller than a teacup.

That would be Arrietty, one of a race of tiny gleaners who, in novelist Norton's splendid notion, manage to live alongside standard-sized people by means of adroit pilferage of minuscule amounts of human supplies. "Borrowers take only what they need," says Arrietty's stoic dad, Pod, sternly, and he never strays from the creed.

Arrietty is bold, however, and doesn't really believe her cautious father and her worrying mother when they tell her "the world is a dangerous place for a borrower." Living with her family in a tiny but comfortable space below the floorboards of a Japanese country house, Arrietty brazenly runs through the garden in full daylight on daring foraging expeditions, fending off menacing grasshoppers and outfoxing an apoplectic cat.

One pleasure of this film is how splendidly detailed director Yonebayashi and his team have made this small, small world. The rope and duct tape logistics involved in a borrower raid into human territory are formidable, and the little people involved need to be part mountain climber and part Navy SEAL commando to have even a chance of success. And all to get a single lump of sugar that will last for months.

On her first official borrowers mission, Arrietty finds a dressmaker's pin that is the perfect size for a weapon. She also gets seen by Shawn, a 14-year-old boy newly arrived at the house. A sickly lad, neglected by his parents, Shawn has been sent to the country to rest up before heart surgery.

Shawn is captivated by his glimpse of Arrietty, as who wouldn't be, and though he and Arrietty would like to pursue a friendship, father Pod is adamant that this kind of thing never works. "Many borrowers have lost their lives," he tells her, "thinking the same."

Though its overall tone is charming, the film has been able to work disturbing peril into its scenario, both from the natural world — a fierce crow is determined to eat Arrietty at all costs — and, more intriguingly, from humans, who by virtue of their size create chaos for the borrowers without even meaning to. It's a tribute to how real this universe has been made onscreen that the film makes us genuinely fear for the borrowers' lives even though we know we don't really have to.

Under the title "The Borrower Arrietty," this film became 2010's top-grossing film in Japan, and considerable work has been done to make sure that similar success happens in Western territories. The script has been adapted to English-language sensibilities by Karey Kirkpatrick, and he and U.S. director Gary Rydstrom have taken great care to match the English words to Japanese lip movements as closely as possible.

Disney has even hired different voice casts for this country and the British Isles. Over there, the actors used included such feature names as Saoirse Ronan, Phyllida Law and Mark Strong, while the excellent U.S. cast is better known for its TV experience. Bridgit Mendler and David Henrie as Arrietty and Shawn have "Wizards of Waverly Place" credits, Arrietty's parents are played by real-life married couple Amy Poehler and Will Arnett, and Carol Burnett gets to have fun as busybody housekeeper Haru.

All this meticulous audience-tailoring aside, what makes "The Secret World of Arrietty" transporting in this country is the same thing that made it succeed in Japan: the film's ability to create a special and marvelous world for audiences to enter. At the screening I attended, no one rushed to leave their seats after the last frame disappeared from the screen. Everyone wanted to hold on to the special feelings "Arrietty" created for as long as possible, and who can blame them for that?

New York Times

16 February 2012

In the Realm of the Tiny, Standing Up to the Big
‘The Secret World of Arrietty’ From Studio Ghibli - NYT Critics' Pick

By Manohla Dargis

The wee folk beneath the floorboards in the wistful animated children’s film “The Secret World of Arrietty” don’t get underfoot: they scramble and hide, if less like scattering mice and more like practiced explorers. There aren’t many of them. For all that Arrietty Clock (voiced by Bridgit Mendler) knows, her family may be the last of its kind, a lost little world in a land of giants. Even so, while she’s 14 going on 15, and three or so inches going on four, Arrietty seems bigger because her courage, along with her fluid form and softly dappled world, come by way of the famed Japanese company Studio Ghibli, where little girls rule, if not necessarily as princesses.

That kind of screen equality is rare in American animation (this year Pixar releases its first movie with a female lead), but it’s never been an issue at Ghibli, where girls have long reigned, without the usual frou-frou, in films like “Spirited Away” and “Ponyo.” In keeping with that tradition, a tiara and pink tulle don’t make Arrietty special: her size and especially her bravery do, as evident when, early on, she sprints across a yard with a few leaves and a sprig of flowers while being chased by a cat that looks like a furry blowfish. The cat belongs to the storybook cottage where her family lives and where a sick human boy, Shawn (David Henrie), has just moved in.

“The Secret World of Arrietty,” as fans of “The Borrowers” will have sussed out, is based on the first of five books Mary Norton wrote about tiny people who primarily live off what they appropriate from human beings (or “beans,” as they call them). An ungenerous soul might brand the Borrowers thieves; the French filmmaker Agnès Varda would describe them as gleaners, those who live lightly on the land, taking what others don’t need, won’t miss and discard.

(“The Secret World” was directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi and planned and written by Hayao Miyazaki, the great Ghibli auteur and director of “Spirited Away”; the voices for the American version were directed and seamlessly dubbed by Gary Rydstrom from an English-language script by Karey Kirkpatrick.)

Part of the charm of the Borrowers books, a quality shared by the movie, is the theme of the tiny making wonderfully do in a world inhabited by, and made for, the big (like parents). The Clocks live under the floors of the human cottage, yet the home they’ve cobbled together from borrowed bits and purloined pieces is as cozy as the one upstairs.

A Ghibli animator turned director, Mr. Yonebayashi fills in this hidden realm with fanciful dollhouse detail, both in the Clock quarters — where a clay flower pot serves as the hearth, and postage stamps hang like paintings — and in the shadowy interiors where Arrietty, nimbly scaling steps made of nails, first learns the art of the steal from her father, Pod (Will Arnett).

The world outside, unsurprisingly for Ghibli, is lush and inviting, by turns a dense jungle and an impressionistic landscape washed in gradations of green and flecked with red, yellow and purple. Ghibli still uses hand drawings, along with computer-generated imagery, though it shuns 3-D animation, the near-ubiquitous process in which models of characters are scanned three-dimensionally or created directly in a computer. What the studio does, brilliantly, is preserve a hand-drawn look and feel in its work, as in the exteriors in “The Secret World,” where the characters pop against a painterly meadow. Computers create extraordinarily photorealistic visuals, but here the human touch deepens the story’s themes of loneliness, friendship, the need for home and for being, literally, held.

Even so, the story doesn’t have the richness of the visuals or the complexities of the book, which has been read as being about the struggles faced by Britons after World War II. There’s also a smidgen too much shrill comedy with Hara, a busybody housekeeper (Carol Burnett), and with Arrietty’s nervous mother, Homily (Amy Poehler).

And it’s initially a letdown that Arrietty and Shawn aren’t just friends, as in the book, but also something like impossible romantic foils. Yet this disappointment proves mostly premature because Studio Ghibli and Arrietty have a way of taking you where you may not expect, whether you’re scrambling through rooms as large as canyons or clambering into the safety of an outstretched hand, a simple gesture that says it all.

5 January 2012

Film Review: Arrietty

By Leigh Paatsch

THE works of Japanese animation production house Studio Ghibli are a luscious law unto themselves, happily set apart from those try-hard toons that flood the market every holiday.

A typical American animated affair will throw everything plus the kitchen sink at the viewer. A Studio Ghibli picture is more likely to take you inside that kitchen sink, to a world you never possibly could have imagined.

If you have ever crossed paths with confirmed Ghibli classics such as Howl's Moving Castle and Spirited Away, you will know exactly what I am banging on about here.

A sublime example of the Ghibli effect is its latest release Arrietty, a beautiful and enchanting adaptation of British author Mary Norton's timeless children's novel The Borrowers.

The title character is a teenage girl, the only child in a family of "little people" living beneath the floorboards of a rambling country house.

The clan lives a literal hand-to-mouth existence - a crumb to you is a feast to them - and adhere to a strict set of tribal laws to ensure their cover is never blown.

What disasters may befall Arrietty and her kin emerge in stark relief when she forms a touching bond with a human, Sho, a sick boy who has arrived at the house to rest before a life-or-death heart operation.

Though Studio Ghibli's own Walt Disney, Hayao Miyazaki, is not in the director's chair, his influence is everywhere on the screen (not least because he co-penned the screenplay).

This simple tale unfolds in a calming, beguiling and teasingly spooky atmosphere. Arrietty marks a complete about-face from the worthy-but-wacky live-action adaptation of The Borrowers that dropped in the 1990s.

Nature is to the fore throughout - barely a scene goes by without the ambient sounds of a rural summertime - and it is impossible to resist the uncomplicated, hassle-free vibe beamed from every frame.

SEE Arrietty opens on January 12 in both English-dubbed and subtitled versions. Check with your cinema to see which they will screen

Arrietty (G) Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi (feature debut) Starring: the voices of Saoirse Ronan, Tom Holland, Mark Strong, Geraldine McEwan, Olivia Colman The little go a long way Rating: 4 Stars.

Phoenix Movie Examiner

19 February 2012

Review: The Secret World of Arrietty

By Joseph Airdo

Despite essentially being able to be categorized as Japanese anime on account of its general appearance and studio roots, “The Secret World of Arrietty” does not feature any of its genre's quirky elements that tend to limit its appeal.

Granted, I am not attempting to compare the new animated flick to “Pokemon” but rather to Studio Ghibli's previous efforts, such as “Spirited Away” and “Ponyo” - both of which are critically acclaimed but never quite found an audience among families on this side of the world. If there is any justice, “The Secret World of Arrietty” will be greeted with gratitude from both critical and commercial entities.

In “The Secret World of Arrietty,” which is now playing at movie theaters throughout the Valley, Bridgit Mendler voices Arrietty a tiny but tenacious 14-year-old girl who lives with her parents (Will Arnett and Amy Poehler) in the recesses of a suburban garden home, unbeknownst to the homeowner and her housekeeper (Carol Burnett).

Like all little people, Arrietty remains hidden from view – except during occasional covert ventures beyond the floorboards to “borrow” scrap supplies from her human hosts. When 12-year-old Shawn (David Henrie), a human boy who comes to stay in the home, discovers his mysterious housemate one evening, a secret friendship blossoms but places Arrietty’s family in extreme danger.

If the general concept of little people residing quietly beneath the floorboards sounds familiar, that is because “The Secret World of Arrietty” is based on Mary Norton's acclaimed children's book series “The Borrowers.” Therefore, right from the start, the movie loses a point for lack of originality as it does not add anything of value to the fairy tale.

However, it makes up for the few critics who this decision will most likely have lost by picking up countless new fans in the form of families who prefer something slightly more simple – and therefore less intimidating – than Studio Ghibli's previous efforts. “The Secret World of Arrietty” is a sweet yet slowly placed story

Director Hiromasa Yonebayashi does a remarkable job of taking the viewer into Arrietty's environment and playing with the various things that are unique to it and therefore delight both children and adults. Best of all, the story is overflowing with heart and harkens back to a time before CGI complicated the animated genre.

In other words, there is charm in both the sincerity and the simplicity of “The Secret World of Arrietty.”

Redeye Chicago

16 February 2012

'The Secret World of Arrietty' review: Don't expect to be spirited away

By Matt Pais

    • (out of four)

The borrowers of Mary Norton’s 1952 children’s novel “The Borrowers” and its Japanese animated big-screen adaptation “The Secret World of Arrietty” aren’t actually borrowers. They’re teeny, tiny thieves who live under people’s floors and swipe items like soap, cookies and sugar cubes to sustain themselves, with no intention of returning what they take. As the (nonexistent) proverb goes, “If you’re going to steal, be cute enough to get away with it.”

Thirteen-year-old Arrietty (voiced by 19-year-old Bridgit Mendler of Disney’s “Wizards of Waverly Place”) excitedly accompanies her father (Will Arnett) on her first borrowing, where she snags a needle that she repurposes as a sword. The trouble comes when she spots human kid Shawn (David Henrie), who’d be happy to spark a friendship with the miniature teen if she didn’t scamper off quickly, thanks to years of rhetoric from mom (Arnett’s real-life wife Amy Poehler) and dad about the danger of people. Can Shawn and Arriety break through years of misunderstanding between tiny people and their much, much bigger roommates before Shawn’s cat eats Arriety and her parents?

“Arrietty” (adapted as a live-action version of “The Borrowers” in 1997 starring John Goodman) comes from the studio behind co-writer Hayao Miyazaki’s beloved films like “Spirited Away” and “Princess Mononoke,” but it’s time to stop giving Studio Ghibli a free pass. Although better than 2008’s wildly overrated “Ponyo,” “Arrietty” offers no magic, only slow-paced seriousness in exploring a world that’s exactly the same as ours, just smaller. The studio always delivers memorably detailed moments, like when Arrietty and her dad use nails as stairs. Yet the movie never feels like a discovery, only a very non-playful detour into a sad story that doesn’t work at feature length. Say what you want about “Honey! I Shrunk the Kids,” but it’s never in danger of putting you to sleep.

SFGate - San Francisco Chronicle

17 February 2012

'Secret World of Arrietty' review: tiny thrills

By Amy Biancolli

They may be just a few inches tall, but the tiny people who live beneath the floorboards in "The Secret World of Arrietty" are creatures of astonishing grit. When Mom asks Dad to pick up some sugar at the end of the day, the request demands more than a jaunt to the grocery store. It involves a death-defying late-night trek through a terrifying kitchen landscape slashed with shadows and vertiginous drops.

Being small isn't for the faint of heart. And Arrietty, our bitsy teen heroine, has the heart of a rebel, reaching out to the sickly boy upstairs despite stern parental objections. It seems Borrowers (the little people) and Human Beans (the big ones) simply can't be friends, not without the borrowers being trapped, killed or driven from their homes.

"Once a borrower's been seen, the bean's curiosity can't be stopped," says Arrietty's Papa, a gruff but loving sort who speaks in raspy truisms. (He's voiced, in the American dub, by Will Arnett doing a fair Clint Eastwood.) But this bean is different from other beans. This bean is the gentle, ailing Shawn (David Henrie), a poetic young soul in cotton PJs, who spies Arrietty (Bridgit Mendler) on her nocturnal sugar-gathering expedition and woos her with kindness thereafter. What unfolds is part adventure, part fairy tale, part star-crossed romance (she fits in his palm; can it get more doomed?). And the overall sum is enchantment.

Based on Mary Norton's "The Borrowers," "The Secret World of Arrietty" was created by the steady hands and fertile minds at Studio Ghibli - the outfit behind such Hayao Miyazaki classics as "Princess Mononoke" and "Howl's Moving Castle." This time, Miyazaki wrote the screenplay, but directing credit goes to veteran Ghibli animator Hiromasa Yonebayashi. It boasts many of the studio's hallmarks: the rich natural world, animated in lush, leafy detail; the promise of magic and mystery lurking around every bend; the homespun touches that make everything delightfully familiar.

What's missing is any real menace - the signature Miyazaki freak factor that turns spirits into monsters and parents into pigs. An overeager housekeeper and a pair of exterminators constitute the film's biggest threats. Wispy original music from singer-harpist Cécile Corbel only adds the air of innocence, which harks back to the studio's older fare (think My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki's Delivery Service) and reminds us, with sun-dappled clarity, that the world we see is only part of the story.

The Sunday Telegraph (Australia)

8 January 2012

Small wonders are delightful in the new Japanimation movie Arrietty

By Nick Dent

ARRIETTY: Madman: 94 minutes (G): Verdict: There are small wonders galore in this new Japanimation

MARY Norton's novel for children, The Borrowers, was first published in 1952 and has enjoyed many screen adaptations over the years. Now it is the turn of Japan's Studio Ghibli, makers of such movies as Spirited Away and Ponyo, and as can be expected, their version is filled with beauty and wonderment.

Arrietty, 13, (voiced in the UK dubbed version by Saoirse Ronan) lives with her father Pod (Mark Strong) and mother Homily (Olivia Colman) under the floorboards of a country mansion. They are Borrowers - little people 10cm tall who survive by "borrowing" things normal-sized people rarely miss.

Told not to let the "human beans" see her, Arrietty goes on her first "borrowing" mission with her father - a raid on the house's kitchen for a cube of sugar.

Arrietty is unwittingly discovered by sickly boy Sho (Tom Holland) who is delighted to find a new friend. But, sadly, housekeeper Haru (Geraldine McEwan) has other plans. The film is co-written by Japanimation superstar Hayao Miyazaki and like many of his films, Arrietty is about the desire of disempowered children to have secret, magical friends. Judging by the films' worldwide success, it's a longing shared by adults too.