By Marty Mulrooney
Arrietty is a Japanese animated film created by Studio Ghibli, based upon the 1952 novel The Borrowers by English author Mary Norton. It tells the story of Arrietty, a tiny little girl who lives with her mother and father beneath the floorboards of a house in western Tokyo. The film was released on the 17th July 2010 in Japan and was finally released in the UK on the 29th July 2011.
Arrietty is the directorial debut of Ghibli animator Hiromasa Yonebayashi, who is the youngest person to direct a film for the company to date. It offers a surprisingly faithful adaptation of the original source material, albeit set in Japan. As the film begins a young boy named Shō arrives at his great aunt Sadako’s house, instructed to rest in preparation for his upcoming heart surgery.
Meanwhile, Arrietty and her family continue to live beneath the floorboards of the house, borrowing items that won’t be missed so that they can continue to survive. Their world may differ from ours only in scale, but the way it is presented continually delights due to its newly alien nature. Relatively harmless everyday creatures are shown to be dangerous when presented on a larger scale, insects merely being a creepy nuisance, the family cat and a disgruntled crow presenting far more dangerous challenges.
The animation in Arrietty upholds the high standard set by previous films from the studio, painting the limited locations – essentially the house and the surrounding grounds – with a staggering sense of size and scale. The garden becomes a dense jungle, the ivy covered roof a towering mountain. An early scene showing Arrietty going on her first ‘borrowing’ with her father, Pod, shows a journey through the human kitchen to acquire a sugar cube that is both breathtaking and magical. Ghibli makes the mundane seem new again with clever use of perspective and visual anchors to always remind us how small Arrietty and her family really are.
The main plot deals with Arrietty and her gradually expanding relationship with the ill human boy Shō. Their interactions are delightful and, despite some occasionally cumbersome dialogue, feel natural. The family maid Haru is used later on as a makeshift antagonist, but overall Arrietty is as gentle and charming as is to be expected. The only mood breaker seems to be the theme music, which can occasionally become too much with it’s overbearing lyrics and borderline cheesy vibe.
The English voice cast are superb throughout, with any stilted lines a product of translation rather than a fault with the performances themselves. Saoirse Ronan is perfect as Arrietty, fearless as she waves a pin like a sword, full of wonder as she borrows, filled with sorrow as she says her goodbyes. Tom Holland also does a fine job as Shō, with Mark Strong as Pod and Olivia Colman as his wife Homily both offering notable performances. The American release has its own dub with alternate voice actors, but I can honestly not imagine it bettering this superb effort.
Arriety is a lovely film that is only let down by its admittedly slight story and overly gentle nature. In some ways it feels like a safe effort from Studio Ghibli, almost Westernised in its approach. There is very little shown to place the film within Japan and as a result it loses some of the quirkiness the studio is known for. Even so, there is no such thing as a bad Studio Ghibli film and Arrietty continues a fine tradition of superbly animated films. Beautiful viewing on a pleasantly small scale.
7.5 OUT OF 10