Loading...

Secret World of Arrietty Review 

Will Arnett and Amy Poehler give voice to Studio Ghibli's latest hand-drawn feature

Thursday, Feb 16 2012
Comments

Synonymous with the humanistic, eco-minded, pastel-hued elegance of Japanese filmmaker and animation virtuoso Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away), Studio Ghibli, which Miyazaki co-founded, has earned its vaunted reputation as Disney's Pixar of the East. Although Miyazaki serves only on the periphery here as co-writer and production supervisor, his soulfulness still radiates through The Secret World of Arrietty, a hand-drawn adaptation of Mary Norton's ageless kid-lit series, The Borrowers, about 4-inch-high humanoids who live beneath the floorboards of those dangerous "human beans."

Within the Ghibli catalog, director Hiromasa Yonebayashi's delicate debut (the English-dubbed version is credited to Gary Rydstrom) is an underplotted, near humorless trifle, but in contrast to the shrill, saccharine CGI cartoons — live-action included — that pass for family entertainment today, it's pure magic.

Fourteen years old and literally knee-high to a kitty cat, inquisitive emblem of purity Arrietty (voiced by Bridgit Mendler) ventures to the idyllic rural home above to forage with her somber father, Pod (Will Arnett, playing against type).

click to enlarge The Secret World of Arrietty
  • The Secret World of Arrietty

Related Stories

Among her pop's golden rules of "borrowing" is that only necessary items that won't be missed should be pilfered from the humans.

Grappling to ledges with a fish hook and string, a grand nighttime kitchen heist — the front-loaded film's most thrilling sequence — yields one measly sugar cube ... which Arrietty loses when spooked by the gaze of Shawn (David Henrie).

A giant boy with a bum ticker, Shawn has been sent to the house for pre-operative care from an elderly woman and her meddlesome housekeeper (Carol Burnett, adding rubber-voiced charisma as chief antagonist).

Back in the teenier kitchen, anxiety-prone mom Homily (Amy Poehler) flips out over her daughter being spotted by the sickly enemy, who is obviously destined to become Arrietty's only friend and unspoken first crush.

Perhaps too fittingly small-scale, the story is trouble-free to the point that it feels slight, though it's full of gorgeous renderings: Shawn matter-of-factly explains the permanence of death to Arrietty while lying in a field that's alive with lush watercolors.

The otherworldliness that is Miyazaki's trademark has been tamped down into naturalistic textures, but the look is still as meticulous and confident as the master's handiwork.

Beyond the ace animation, there are also inspired sensory delights to be heard, from the sweet theme song by French vocalist/harpist Cécile Corbel to the way a straight pin unsheathes from Arrietty's dress with a loud, metallic clang like a broadsword to the ears of the little people. 

THE SECRET WORLD OF ARRIETTY | Directed by HIROMASA YONEBAYASHI | Written by HAYAO MIYAZAKI and KEIKO NIWA, based on the series by MARY NORTON | Studio Ghibli/Disney | Citywide

Related Content

Now Showing

  1. Wed 16
  2. Thu 17
  3. Fri 18
  4. Sat 19
  5. Sun 20
  6. Mon 21
  7. Tue 22

    Find capsule reviews, showtimes & tickets for all films in town.

    Sponsored by Fandor

Box Office

Scores provided by Rotten Tomatoes

Join My Voice Nation for free stuff, concert and dining info & more!

Slideshows

  • Nicolas Cage's 10 Best Movie Roles
    As video-on-demand continues to become the preferred route of distribution for a certain kind of independent film, much is being made of Nicolas Cage's willingness to slum for a paycheck, with recent examples including already-forgotten, small-screen-friendly items like Seeking Justice, Trespass, Stolen, and The Frozen Ground. (His character names in these projects -- Will Gerard, Kyle Miller, Will Montgomery, and Jack Halcombe -- are as interchangeable as the titles of the films.) Aside from citing the obvious appeal of doing work for money (a defense Cage himself brought up in a recent interview with The Guardian), it's also possible to back Cage by acknowledging the consistency with which he's taken on "serious" roles over the years.

    David Gordon Green's Joe, which hits limited release this weekend (more details on that here), marks the latest instance of this trend, with Cage giving a reportedly subdued performance as an ex-con named Joe Ransom. In that spirit, we've put together a rundown of some of the actor's finest performances, all of which serve as proof that, though his over-the-top inclinations may make for a side-splitting YouTube compilation, Cage has amassed a career that few contemporary actors can equal. This list is hardly airtight in its exclusivity, so a few honorable mentions ought to go out to a pair of Cage's deliriously uneven auteur collaborations (David Lynch's Wild at Heart, Brian De Palma's Snake Eyes), 1983's Valley Girl, 1987's Moonstruck, and Alex Proyas's Knowing (a favorite of the late Roger Ebert).

    --Danny King
  • Ten Enduring Conspiracy Thrillers
    With the approaching release this week of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, many critics, including L.A. Weekly’s own Amy Nicholson, have noted the film’s similarities (starting with the obvious: Robert Redford) to the string of conspiracy thrillers that dominated American cinema during the 1970s. With that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of ten of the most enduring entries in the genre -- most of them coming from the ‘70s, but with a few early-‘80s holdouts added in for good measure. This is by no means an exclusive list, and more recent films like Roger Donaldson’s No Way Out (1987), Jacques Rivette’s Secret Defense (1998), Tony Scott’s Enemy of the State (1998), Stephen Gaghan’s Syriana (2005), and Redford’s own The Company You Keep (2012) speak to how well the genre has sustained itself over time. Words by Danny King.
  • Behind the Scenes of Muppets Most Wanted
    "The endurance of the Muppets isn't just the result of the creative skills of Henson and collaborators like Frank Oz, or of smart business decisions, or of sheer dumb luck," writes this paper's film critic Stephanie Zacharek in her review of Muppets Most Wanted. "It's simply that the Muppets are just ever so slightly, or maybe even totally, mad. Man, woman, child: Who can resist them? Even TV-watching cats are drawn to their frisky hippety-hopping and flutey, gravely, squeaky, squawky voices." Go behind the scenes with the hippety-hopping Muppets with these images.

    Read our full Muppets Most Wanted movie review.

Now Trending