Review: Arrietty (2010)

Synopsis: 14-year-old Arrietty and the rest of the Clock family live in peaceful anonymity as they make their own home from items “borrowed” from the house’s human inhabitants. However, life changes for the Clocks when a human boy discovers Arrietty.

Marking the directorial debut of animator Hiromasa Yonebayashi, Arrietty – Studio Ghibli’s latest output – is a magical adaptation of Mary Norton’s much-loved British classic The Borrowers, and a personal project for esteemed Ghilbi co-founder and animator extraordinaire Hayao Miyazaki.

The screenplay, co-written between Miyazaki and Isao Takahata some forty years ago, is distinctly respectful of Norton’s source material: so much so that it often personally references the books in a noticeably conscientious yet appropriately nuanced manner. Everything from Arrietty’s encounter with an aggressive feline, to her very first Borrowing mission with her father, and even her burgeoning relationship with Sho is played out at a charming pace. It almost feels eternal, which is sure to help in making Arrietty a well-remembered and adored Ghibli feature.

The abundant animation is – as is expected from a Ghibli film – absolutely sensational. Yonebayashi directs with such passion, delicacy and attention to detail that it’s hard not to feel enthralled by the magical world that created. What’s truly striking, however, is how lush and rustic the animation feels. During daylight hours, the delectable landscape is utterly lustrous yet by night it has a luminous and wondrously enchanting quality: a contrast that works tremendously, supplying excellent scope and lineage to the already dazzling canvas.

French musician – and regular Ghibli counterpart – Cecile Corbel’s score blends seamlessly with the action and animation, speaking volumes to the personal touch that all involved have painstakingly applied, ensuring that Arrietty is bestowed in a special old-fashioned finery. Its wistfully idyllic folk-vibe accentuates the animation style further, as though the two were destined to be played alongside one another. At times, the score is in danger of domineering the action, but it’s always pulled back before getting out of hand.

The only problem with Arrietty, and something that might deter older viewers, is that it’s very much a kids film. Aside from a few witty touches, it doesn’t stretch to accommodate adults in the way that Pixar and a number of past Ghibli productions have nailed. That said, it’s hardly something that can be condemned, and on many levels it benefits the film, keeping it grounded and simplistic, rather than trying to appeal to too many demographics and packing it silly with adult-appropriate references.

Arrietty may not hits the heights of Howl’s Moving Castle, Spirited Away, or a number of other well-respected Ghibli classics, but it has exuberant charm, illustrious animation and a high level of intimacy – basically everything you’ve come to expect from a Ghibli film, but on a smaller, more child-focused scale.

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