Sean K. Cureton

The Borrowers Reimagined by Ghibli

In Movie Reviews: 2012 on March 2, 2012 at 7:44 pm

Theatrical Poster

The Secret World of Arrietty
3 out of 4 stars
Directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi

Studio Ghibli films are special. Much of their appeal comes from the artistic direction of the great Japanese animator and story teller Hayao Miyazaki, whose previous films include 1988’s My Neighbor Tottoro, 1997’s Princess Mononoke, and 2001’s Spirited Away, just to name a few. With Miyazaki’s films, the beauty of the hand drawn animation is so minutely detailed that each movement feels as effortless and playful as if Miyazaki were directing actual actors instead of two dimensional figures on a page. The stories Miyazaki, and his Studio Ghibli, are able to tell are so epic and familiar that one feels almost as though one has known the characters intimately for an entire lifetime, instead of only the two or so hours that the film runs in. The fact of the matter is, Miyazaki is the best animator alive right now, or that there possibly ever was.

However, the new Studio Ghibli film, The Secret World of Arrietty, was not directed by Miyazaki. Hiromasa Yonebayash, who previously worked only as an animator within the studio, directed Arrietty. While the film is certainly not bad, in fact it is way ahead of most of the children oriented films that are made in the U.S., it definitely lacks the distinctive touch of Miyazaki. Where Miyazkai’s films flow so beautifully with every attention to detail having been paid, Yonebayashi’s landscapes are tame in comparison. There just isn’t as much detail to the world’s features, or its characters, who or are also miraculously threadbare in comparison to Miyazaki’s wonderfully eccentric and soulful characters. While there are certainly exceptions to this rule, namely the two heroes Arrietty and the sick boy Shawn, Yonebayashi’s characters are just not as fleshed out as the characters in a Miyazaki film.

However, this is not to say that The Secret World of Arrietty is either uninteresting or a bad film. On the contrary, Yonebayashi’s film is one of the best-animated films I have seen in a while, and the first hand drawn animated film I have probably seen since Miyazaki’s 2008 release of Ponyo. While an American made film might have tripped itself up over the rather simple narrative, which was based on the Mary Norton novel The Borrowers, Ghibili proves itself again to be a studio fully capable of breathing life into a story that might have been presumed to be dead. While the story of The Borrowers has certainly been told before by American directors, and quite poorly at that, Yonebayashi and Studio Ghibli have been able to make the story fun and interesting where before it felt predictable and boring.

Yet, at the same time, one could say that Yonebayashi’s film is still not quite as good of an adaptation when compared to the aforementioned Miyazaki film Ponyo, which was an ingenious reincarnation of the Little Mermaid story. Where Yonebayashi has simply provided a new package for the same basic material, Miyazaki created a whole new skeleton for the Little Mermaid story, delivering a story that, while being familiar, was completely new and unexpected at every turn.

All in all though, Yonebayashi has delivered a film that was obviously inspired intensely by the work of Miyazaki, even if it doesn’t compare to it. The Secret World of Arrietty is a delightful and unexpected retelling of Mary Norton’s The Borrowers, even if its direction and delivery simply mimicked Miyazkai’s brilliance without fully replicating it.


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