Studio Ghibli has proven itself to be comparable to Pixar in the quality of its animated output, and “The Secret World of Arrietty” maintains that reputation. My family long ago turned Pixar’s annual films into must-see theater trips, and we’ve started to do the same with the output from Miyazaki’s studio.
Based on the classic series of children’s books “The Borrowers” and transplanted to Japan, the movie centers on Arrietty, a young Borrower who lives with her parents in a house under the floorboards. Small enough to use nails as ladders, Arrietty and her father, Pod, embark on nightly trips to borrow sugar, pieces of tissue, and other things they need. The movie opens with Arrietty about to embark on her first borrowing, which is a rite of passage among her people.
During the trip, however, Arrietty is seen by Sho, a boy who has come to the house to be cared for by his great aunt before he has heart surgery. Sho attempts to connect with Arrietty, and eventually she reciprocates, despite her parents’ warnings. Unfortunately, that connection rises the curiosity of Sho’s great aunt, who had long ago heard about little people living under the house but was unable to produce proof of their existence until now. The final act involves Arrietty trying to save her mother, with Sho’s help, before a bittersweet farewell.
I haven’t read the books, so I don’t know how faithful this adaptation is to the source material, but the story is typical of many of Studio Ghibli’s films: the world is fanciful, but it’s presented in a matter-of-fact way, and the compact narrative sticks to the spine of the tale without drifting off on tangents. The interactions between the characters feel honest and heartfelt, and the ending doesn’t necessarily tie all the loose ends in a neat bow.
The American voice-over work is excellent. (You can listen to the original Japanese with English sub-titles, if you want.) Despite the presence of big-name cast members like Will Arnett and Amy Poehler, I never felt like I was listening to Gob from “Arrested Development” and Leslie Knope from “Parks and Rec.” They do a nice job of modulating their voices and losing themselves in their characters.
Bridgit Mendler, one of Disney’s current crop of young stars, also does a good job as the voice of Arrietty, but her involvement is where I need to knock a star off this review. The bonus features consist of two music videos, one with the main theme by Cecile Corbel, and one with Mendler singing an insipid pop song that’s unfortunately also in the movie. A short making-of for Mendler’s music video is also included. My daughter informed me that the Mendler materials have, unsurprisingly, been in heavy rotation on the Disney Channel.
Beyond that, we have the Japanese storyboards and original Japanese trailers and TV spots. The standard-def DVD also included in this package has the movies and the Mendler stuff.
And that’s it. Seriously. All that room on a Blu-ray disc and they couldn’t include some thoughts from Miyazaki and the rest of the creative staff, or some background material on the books and how they were approached for the adaptation. Other Studio Ghibli films have received nice treatments on Blu-ray and DVD the past couple years, so it’s unfortunate that Disney went the bare-bones route with this one.