Bottom Line: The Secret World of Arrietty is actually one of Miyazaki’s less marvelous worlds.
Directed by: Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Starring (United States dub): Amy Poehler, Bridgit Mendler, Carol Burnett, Dale Sison, David Henrie, Frank Marshall, Gracie Poletti, Karey Kirkpatrick, Moises Arias, Peter Jason, Steve Alpert, Will Arnett
Preface: For all my followers from the U.K., you likely know this as simply Arrietty, just as anyone from Japan knows it as The Borrower Arrietty.
Hayao Miyazaki, who wrote, planned, and executive produced 2012’s THE SECRET WORLD OF ARRIETTY, has some potential to create a Japanimation that is a brilliant, dazzling classic. He did this profoundly just a decade ago with SPIRITED AWAY. The reason that film is such a memorable piece of art is because it is a high fantasy that puts us into the young female lead’s shoes and gives us an experience of equal parts exhilarating adventure and bewildering fear. Although the picture is well done in terms of entertainment, and there is a decent amount of escapade as well as a sense of worry, especially near the end, it seems to handle the fantasy genre in a too much more upbeat, wholesome manner. I don’t mean to cast any aspersions on G rated movies; you know that when the MPAA slaps a PG certificate on thoroughly harmless family movies such as UP and THE MUPPETS, this may just be one of the very last films to carry a G rating before it disappears. The story seems to be plotted out quite uneventfully, to the point where I can’t see anyone over the age of nine finding it as altogether mesmerizing as SPIRITED AWAY. Hence the title: it’s her secret world, not her awe-inspiring world.
THE SECRET WORLD OF ARRIETTY begins with a voice-over by a boy named Shawn (voiced by David Henrie), most likely in his teen years. He says that although he is going to stay with his grandmother for the summer, it’s the one summer he’ll never forget. He meets a “Borrower”–the term used for the race of people the size of mice who borrow items, such as dollhouses and sugar cubes, from “Beings” of normal size in order to stay alive–named Arrietty (voiced by Bridgit Mendler), who is about to turn fourteen. She has been warned time and time again not to interact with “Beings”, but Shawn has no friends and finds it crucial that he protect Arrietty. When Shawn’s mother Hara (voiced by Carol Burnett), however, discovers Arrietty living in her house, she resorts to trapping her family where she can easily find them and have them exterminated by pest control.
ARRIETTY is not much special. It’s fifty percent story of reluctant friendship and fifty percent story of devotion to family. Clearly, this is a film targeted at an audience that is learning what it means to engage in those traits. Supported by a number of Disney Channel stars (to name a few: Bridgit Mendler, Moises Arias, and David Henrie), this should be getting the attention of young fans of that channel. It’s a commendable film at least for that age group, who would likely find just about everything absolutely fascinating. Beyond that, though, it’s difficult to say the film is a work of art. From what I’ve seen, Miyazaki’s animes have been a delight for all ages. SPIRITED AWAY and HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE, for example, are cinematic treats that welcome anyone and everyone who so wishes to watch them. That overwhelming delight is scarcely present in THE SECRET WORLD OF ARRIETTY. Because of its solid voice performances (in this U.S. dub) and its bright visual atmosphere, it’s entertaining, at best.