Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Secret World Of Arrietty Is A Slow, Animated Fantasy

The Good: Interesting characters, Interesting concept, Great sound editing
The Bad: The proportions keep changing, Very slow, Very basic plot
The Basics: The Secret World Of Arrietty is a Studio Ghibli film too slow for children and too much of a one-trick pony for adults.

My wife is a big fan of Studio Ghibli animated films, but she had never seen one on the big screen. So, with the release of The Secret World Of Arrietty, I decided to do my part to give her the chance to see it on the big screen and I was actually excited to go see it with her. I'm not sure why I was so excited; we've watched three other Studio Ghibli films together and even the one I liked the most - Ponyo - I nodded off during. I figured that I had fallen asleep during my three prior Studio Ghibli film experiences because it was late at night each time and I was super-comfortable as we watched the movie from our bed. Unfortunately, The Secret World Of Arrietty proved to me that that theory was not entirely a good one, though I only dozed off in the theater for a few seconds (nodding my head jerked me awake).

The Secret World Of Arrietty is very slow. It is so slow, in fact, that there are parts that are just tiresome, drawn out and somewhat unexciting. The Secret World Of Arrietty seems to hinge on its own concept and it does not do much with that concept, so once you've heard what the movie is about, you've pretty much seen it. Sadly, it does not do much with the idea and it failed to wow me . . . and today I was actually excited to be out with my wife to see it.

Shawn is not well and he is sent to his aunt Jessica's house to rest before his heart surgery. On his way into the house the first time, he sees his aunt's cat attacked by a bird and he is convinced he sees a tiny girl. In fact, he did: her name is Arrietty and she is a fourteen year old girl who is about three inches tall. Arrietty has made her first excursion out into the real world and she is able to impress her father and mother with the idea that she was not captured by the cat. So, her father, Pod, allows her to come with him to "borrow" a sugar cube from the human's house. While out trying to get the sugar cube and a tissue, Arrietty is discovered by Shawn and she and Pod flee without their sugar.

Shawn, however, is not afraid and he tries to deliver the sugar cube to Arrietty the next day. Pod and Arrietty's mother, Homily, warn Arrietty to stay away from Shawn. But Shawn and Arrietty have a furtive meeting, where Arrietty gives him a little information on the little people. But the housekeeper at Aunt Jessica's house, Haru, soon becomes suspicious when Shawn tries to give the little people part of the dollhouse built for them by his grandfather. Haru begins to wreck the little people's house and captures Homily. While Arrietty tries to rescue her mother with Shawn, Pod prepares to take the family far away.

The biggest problem with The Secret World Of Arrietty is in the animation. The exact size of Arrietty and the other Borrowers is unclear. Various items used by Arrietty, Pod and Homily keep changing, making it impossible to understand just how small they are actually intended to be. So, for example, the bricks used by Arrietty to use as stairs to climb up to the grate that leads to the outside vary dramatically in size. Similarly, it is hard to guess what the actual application of the plastic clip Arrietty uses in her hair is unclear.

The Secret World Of Arrietty is exceptionally light on character. Arrietty and Shawn pretty much establish themselves, but do little significant with their characterization. So, for example, Shawn has a heart condition and the sense of mortality is not impressed upon the viewer in a way that makes it seem like a vital matter. In other words, he says he is potentially dying, but it never feels like his death is as imminent as the adult viewer feels like it ought to. The characterization is kept consistent - Shawn easily gets out of breath when trying to save Arrietty - but it does not have a real impact. In a similar way, in The Secret World Of Arrietty, Arrietty and the Borrowers are fearful that their race might be moved toward extinction. But even with the desire to flee, the viewer feels more like The Secret World Of Arrietty is about the potential destruction of a single family, never the end of the whole group of people.

The pacing in The Secret World Of Arrietty is very off. The film is slow. Dreadfully slow. In fact, even the children watching The Secret World Of Arrietty at the theater my wife and I went to seemed bored with it; walking through it in a way I did now see during, for example, Tangled (reviewed here!). The Secret World Of Arrietty does, however, have amazing sound editing. While the visual effects may be woefully inconsistent, the sound effects are incredible. When Arrietty enters the living room at one point, there is a thunderous noise of a clock ticking and the perceptive viewer picks this up instantly because it is so clear. Similarly, the sounds of water in the pipes, faucets dripping and things like the roof getting torn off the Borrower's house are loudly accented.

The Secret World Of Arrietty is an interesting idea that is far less exciting than it could have been, no matter who the intended audience was.

For other anime films, please check out my reviews of:
Perfect Blue
Princess Mononoke
The Triplets Of Bellevue


For other movie reviews, please be sure to visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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