Movie Review: The Secret World of Arrietty
By Matthew Huntley
February 22, 2012
After Shawn and Arrietty develop a trust, Haru is convinced something fishy is going on, and she’s determined to trap Arrietty and her family. Haru is not a villain in the traditional sense; she’s just obsessed with proving borrowers are real and believes they should pay for the things they take. Perhaps they should, because unless they give them back, it’s technically stealing.
Regardless, all of this makes for solid family entertainment. Arrietty is a fully-realized, independent character with a colorful personality. Her courage and yearning for freedom, not to mention her willingness to learn about and tolerate humans, are at the heart of the story. We’re able to identify and sympathize with her as she joins the ranks of other high-profile animated female characters like Ariel from The Little Mermaid and Chihiro from Spirited Away.
Given the film was originally a Japanese production (first released in 2010), I would have preferred listening to it in its native soundtrack (to me, English dubs lose the spark and intent of the filmmaker’s original vision), but I found this one working, thanks mostly to the female casting. Mendler gives the title character a lot of presence and energy, and Poehler and Burnett do the same for Homily and Haru. The same cannot be said of the male voices, which seem flat by comparison, but I suppose that mirrors their characters’ personalities.
If there’s one thing the movie should have done differently, it’s draw out the parental figures more. As they are, Homily and Pod embody the female and male stereotypes we’re used to seeing, where the mother is a nagging worrywart, prone to fear and overreacting, and the father is strong, emotionless and bound by survival instincts. It would have been more interesting if the parents were given more original weight.
But the movie is mostly a delight and I hope that parents won’t resist taking their kids to see it just because it doesn’t fit the traditional Disney-American style of animated storytelling. It’s a film I hope adults also choose to see, not least because of its sheer artistic beauty and attention to detail. Studio Ghibli is known for its bright and popping visual style and The Secret of World of Arrietty is the latest to immerse us in a world that’s wondrous and distinct. As a story, The World of Arrietty is not overly complex and perhaps not up to the level of some of the studio’s previous masterpieces, but it’s just as thoughtful and heartfelt. It leaves audiences of all ages plenty to be happy about.