14-year-old Arrietty Clock, along with her mother and father, are Borrowers, a tiny race of people who inhabit the homes of others and survive by ‘borrowing’ things that won’t be missed. After years of living in an idyllic fashion, the Clock family’s lives are turned upside down when a sickly but inquisitive young boy moves into the residence.
The Borrowers series of books have been classics of British children’s literature since the original book’s release in 1952, yet the few adaptations attempted (more precisely the early 90s series made by the BBC and the 1997 feature starring John Goodman) have been relatively lacklustre. In all fairness this may be the fault of the source material, which, though imaginative, is basically an episodic sequence of low-key adventures.
Who better then to take a crack at an adaptation than the internationally loved, Japanese animation house, Studio Ghibli, who in the past have told small tales of young love (Whispers of the Heart) and children playing with tree creatures (My Neighbour Totoro) with such heart and respect for the viewership that they’ve melted the hearts of audience members of all demographics.
Though written and developed by Ghibli granddaddy, Hayao Miyazaki, Arrietty was left in the hands of Ghibli regular, but first time director, Hiromasa Yonedayashi, who, bravely, has gone totally against current convention and produced the entire feature in glorious hand drawn animation. This is odd even by Studio Ghibli’s standards, as they have included digital elements into their 2D animations since 1997’s fantastic Princess Mononoke. However, fans of the studio’s earlier work, most notably the aforementioned Whispers of the Heart and My Neighbour Totoro, not to mention the more adventurous examples such as Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, will be in seventh heaven, with the ‘out dated’ animation style capturing the spirit of those classics like no film since.
The animation in general is vintage Ghibli, simple character designs that portrays emotion effortlessly, gorgeous settings and inventive creature designs. Most of the story being seen from the perspective of the Clock family means that everyday items, and such things as insects, now take on monstrous form and scale, while pins and other household mainstays become tools or weapons to be wielded. It’s all great fun and pulled off seamlessly.
Borrowers purists (if there is such a thing) may be slightly disappointed that the story has been relocated to post-war Japan, but this aside, Arrietty is the most respectful adaptation of The Borrowers to date. Never going overboard with the action or emotion, the singular adventures have been kept relatively low-key, but rather than turning into a bore-fest, this approach really allows the lead characters to explore their inner fears in subtle and effecting ways.
Unfortunately I wasn’t able to see the Japanese language version of the film, and barring the English language version of Princess Mononoke and the French language version of Porco Rosso, which are both excellent, Ghibli films generally work better with their native soundtracks. Indeed, though the voice actors used for the UK release are an impressive collection, the overall feeling is a little vague and a tad too subtle. But from what I understand, American actors may rerecord the dialogue for the US release, so who knows how that will turn out!?
While Arrietty is entertaining throughout, the climax ads a twang of emotion, that, though subtle, is genuinely touching and elevates it from the studio’s good output to amongst their best, certainly their best since Spirited Away.
All in all a great film that will be enjoyed by children of all ages.
A- grade – for storytelling
B+ grade – for design work
A-grade – for animation
Overall grade – A-
Arrietty is currently on release in the UK courtesy of Optimum Releasing, and will be released in the US February 2012 courtesy of Buena Vista (sorry about the wait)
Watch the trailer…