Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Secret World of Arrietty (UK Dub)

As most readers to this site know, I usually review movies weeks after they are released in theatres.  Which means that my advise is usually useless because even if I convinced you to see the movie, its already probably too late.  Anywho, I'm going to justify my lack of professionalism by saying this:  I don't get paid.  If somebody were to wire me twenty dollars every week to review new movies on the day they come out, I would do it.  Instead you pay me in love.   Which is fine, but most theatre chains don't accept love as money, sadly - even on Valentine's Day.

But this time, I'm actually review a movie on time... even if it isn't the exact movie that's coming out tomorrow.  You see, "The Secret World of Arrietty" or "The Borrower Arrietty" if you're in Japan or just "Arrietty" if you're in Britain, is the newest Studio Ghibli movie directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi (who was the animation director for the utterly gorgeous "Tales from Earthsea") and was written by the Mikado himself, Hayao Miyazaki.  This movie has three titles, and three different dubs:  the original Japanese from 2010, Disney's American dub that's coming out tomorrow, and a British dub that came out last year.  Now, usually I would wait and go see this movie tomorrow, but the British dub does feature one little actor named MARK STRONG.  Am I going to see the version of "Arrietty" that doesn't have Mark Strong?  Hell no.  I'm seeing the version with Mark Strong.

As for "Arrietty" as a movie, its a solid Ghibli movie.  Its definitely a lot more low-key and less ambitious than other Ghibli movies of the past like "Spirited Away" and "Howl's Moving Castle", but "Arrietty" retains that classic Ghibli charm.  As far as Ghibli movies go, this is fairly mediocre, but that's like saying this is one of the dimmer stars in heaven.  Its still beautiful, it still gives warmth, its still worth seeing, and its still a Hell of a lot better than a mediocre American animated movie.  Remember, you could be watching "Madagascar 3".

The first important point:  I saw this dub mainly because Mark Strong is in it.  Now Mark Strong is an amazing actor, he's great in every movie he's ever been in, including being one of the only good things about "Green Lantern".  Unfortunately, he's a terrible voice actor.  His voice is simply too atonal for the job, and I don't think his role gave him anything to work with.  So um.... I guess I was punished for watching this movie online illegally (which is just about the only way to find the UK Dub in this hemisphere).  I'll have to check out the American dub this weekend and see which one is an improvement.  I will say that the trailers for the American dub seem to be adding a lot more humor and playfulness to the story, which is something it really needs.

"Arrietty" is a movie based on a Western children's series of books called "the Borrowers", which is a story about little tiny doll-sized people who live in people's houses and "borrow" little scraps of food and cloth and things in order to survive.  If any of the Wee People are spotted by a human, the human's curiosity will drive them mad and make kidnap the Borrower and probably sell them to the circus or something.  Arrietty is a teenage girl living with her mom and Pappa Mark Strong in a house under some bricks in a basement.  The house is home to a few old ladies and a newcomer:  a young boy named "Sho" who has a severe heart condition and might be dying.  Arrietty goes with her dad on their first "borrowing" adventure, which because of the dangers of bugs and cats and humans is an extremely dangerous affair which involves lots of climbing skills and badassary.  Unfortunately, Arrietty is spotted by Sho, and in order for the Wee Family to survive, they're going to have to find a new home away from the humans.

Like any proper Ghibli movie, the plot is full of fantasy bits and the animation is gorgeous.  However, a basic runthrough of the plot will show that the story is fairly low-impact and doesn't offer itself up to intense Ghibli sequences of animation gold like "Ponyo" or "Tales from Earthsea".  The Wee People's adventures in climbing through the kitchen are exciting sequences, and even something as nonthreatening to a human as a wild chicken suddenly becomes a huge dangerous scene for a Wee Person.  Another thing I liked was the inexplicable Wee Indian kid, who appears to have wandered out of "Princess Mononoke" to join us in "Arrietty".  So even if the story is grounded for Ghibli, its still a lot of fun.

"Arrietty" is never a dark movie like "Mononoke" or dramatic like "Earthsea", but its definitely no light comedy like "Porco Rosso" or "Ponyo".  It kinda falls straight in the middle, some plot points are pretty funny like when Arrietty's mom is visibly turned-on when Sho gives them a beautiful new doll house kitchen.  But then there's Sho's heart condition, which may be fatal, and you never know how his surgery goes.  The villain is also a sadist evil grandma.  I thought the tone of this movie could have used more humor, and it appears the Disney dub is bringing that in.

More importantly for a Ghibli movie, the animation is gorgeous.  Its the little details that are so charming for this movie.  When the Wee People make tea, their cups can only hold a single drop of liquid, which is more than enough for their scale.  Arrietty's dad climbs using double-sided tape, Arrietty has a sword that's only a tiny pin, and her hair is held in place with a tiny cloths line peg that acts like a giant clip on her hair.  I also love the music, which is one of the best scores in any Ghibli movie yet.

So I can't say that "Arrietty" is going to turn new viewers into Ghibli fans, but its certainly a decent movie.  I wouldn't put this among the most memorable of Ghibli titles, but its definitely one of their simply solid outings like "The Cat Returns" or "Totoro".  I can see a few snobby critics not liking this movie for its imperfections like they hated on "Earthsea", but seriously, they're wrong.  This movie is worth seeing, and its worth enjoying for its simple charms.


  1. Whoa. Totoro? A 'simply solid outing'? The Ghibli benchmark of excellence more like!
    I usually see Ghibli films as soon as they come out but this one doesn't seem to grab my attention like Ponyo did previously. I'll give it a go though, if only for curiousity.

  2. Well Blue you have to know The book that it's based off isn't very "Exciting" to say. But it's how you perseave it(Damn spelled that wrong). If you see it from a human's view then yeah it's not really thrilling. But if you see it from the Borrower's view the world is a dangerous, but exciting, place. These were my first chapter book as a kid and I really hope that they stick to a majority of the book.

  3. I still am a bit confused as to what Earthsea was hated for besides not being made by the right Miyazaki. And for not following the source material more closely. Basically it's fanhate.

    Now that you commented that Disney is trying to fill their dub with chuckles, I feel I should probably go Mark Strong too. I don't know what is so good about the guy or who the hell he is, but it oughtta be better.

    I wonder what your comments on From up on Poppy Hill will be. It's another Goro movie. I know he's more lowkey and serious than his father, but I'm willing to sit through low key movies if their narrative is good.