29 July 2011


It could reasonably be said that people have been unfair to Cars 2 because it's Pixar's combo-breaker, and the first of their features not to get more or less universally positive reviews. Perhaps there's some truth in that, but an animation studio that's similarly put on a pedestal is Studio Ghibli. Now I don't know that I rate their work as highly as Pixar's, but I can say at the end of this week, Arrietty is a damn sight better than Cars 2.

Ghibli's latest is an adaptation of Mary Norton's The Borrowers, relocated to contemporary Tokyo. Shō is a young boy with heart trouble, dispatched to live with his great aunt for the summer. He spies a tiny girl upon his arrival, and becomes fascinated by the Borrowers. The Clocks are a family of Borrowers who live beneath Shō's new home, and their daughter, Arrietty, is equally as fascinated by the world of "human beans".

Studio Ghibli's films are amongst the few world cinema releases that can justifiably be dubbed, given how their target audience is children, for whom it's a much more valid complaint to say that subtitles are hard work. And in the past, there's been inspired re-casting of voices- my favourite Ghibli outing is still Porco Rosso with the English language version's lead vocals by Michael Keaton. Although they've laid on two English language dubs of Arrietty, the UK version featuring Saoirse Ronan and Mark Strong, I was scared away by the shrill stylings of Ponyo and stuck with subtitles.

In general, it's the animation that speaks for these films much more than the vocals, or often the story. If there's a complaint I have with Hayao Miyazaki's studio, it's that the stories seem to run into one another in my memory. Although purists will flout Howl's Moving Castle for rehashing certain aspects of Laputa- Castle In The Sky, most Ghibli films seem to be very similar to one another. And in this case, we have another story in which a young boy encounters a magical girl and is whisked into a grand adventure.

But of Arrietty, it should be said that the greatest difference is how down-to-earth this one feels, especially for a film about miniscule people. It's such a straight adaptation of the first of Norton's series of books, there's little room for the studio's usual flights of fancy. There's no oblique magic, nor any sight of colossal airships or zeppelins. The charm of the piece is in how the story is allowed to speak for itself. I don't say this to suggest a contrast with the studio's previous work, but simply to appreciate the change of pace from other recent animated films in general.

It's considerably more colourful, too, than the slightly soggy seaside antics of Ponyo, which happened to take a few more liberties with its source material too. Miyazaki didn't direct this one, but his protege Yonebayashi Hiroma steps up and finding constant rapture and beauty in the vivid garden outside Shō's front door. If we still consider Ghibli to be a better, more Japanese version of Disney, then thank heavens they're still flying the flag for hand-drawn animation when it looks this good, putting 3D CG features like Mars Needs Moms and, yes, Cars 2 to shame.

Arrietty is a pretty safe adaptation of The Borrowers, in a field that also includes a classic BBC series, one boorish British effort from 1997, and a second BBC TV movie, due to premiere this Christmas. On the other hand, it's as invested with vivid colour and artistry as any of Studio Ghibli's other efforts, and its charm doesn't lie entirely in how manageable and undemanding it is. Kids will be delighted, adults won't come out clutching their heads, and any Ghibli fans in between should be content with another fine animated film.

Arrietty is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen Arrietty, why not share your comments below? Now that I think about it, I would like the option to see the dubbed version of this one- Ronan and Strong are both pretty good...

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

1 comment:

Ledlebi said...

Good review, I watched Arrietty 2-3 months age and I was fastinated by colours and music. The scene in which Sho saw Arrietty for the first time was wonderful.

It became one of my fav Ghibli movies, along with Nausicaa and Mononoke-hime