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The Secret World of Arrietty Review
By Darrin Jones / February 18

Ingredients: If you liked the plot of The Borrowers (1997), the animation of Howl’s Moving Castle, and the characters of The Secret of NIMH, you will like this movie.

The Secret World of Arrietty, which seems to be going by several name
s lately, is the first animated film directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi. If you’re not familiar with him, Yonebayashi was the major animator for the absolutely gloriously beautiful Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, Princess Mononoke, and Ponyo movies. Yonebayashi has a terrific eye for creating surreal dreamlike environments and lovably quirky characters and he brings that talent here. Unfortunately, this is his first directorial debut and it shows. The movie is about a family of tiny people called Borrowers who live alongside a normal sized human family completely without the humans’ knowledge. The Borrowers sneak into the rooms of humans ‘burrowing’ miniscule amounts of materials to bring back to their homes for whatever purpose they need. A recent addition to the human family, a young sick boy named Shawn (as voiced by David Henrie), spots Arrietty (voiced by Bridgit Mendler) who is the youngest of the Borrower family. The two develop a curiosity for one another but the Borrowers are gravely afraid that once humans become aware of the presence of Borrowers their family will be in danger until they can find a new home. Not before long, the Borrowers’ fears are proven right as the housemaid, Hara (Carol Burnett), becomes obsessed with capturing the Borrowers for some unexplained reason other then the movie needed an antagonist. 

As beautiful and vibrant as this movie looks, fans of the Studio Ghibli animations--the same studio that produced the before mentioned animated films--might notice that The Secret World of Arrietty really doesn’t carry the same weight and impact as its predecessors. Hayao Miyazaki, the director for the Studio Ghibli films, always brought a mixture of Japanese culture, adult understandings and childlike wonderment to his films but the same can not be said for this one. The story is very straightforward and slow. It almost suffers from too much realism; except for the Borrowers themselves, the movie is lacking Miyazaki’s familiar magical touch. Since the film mostly focuses on the Borrower family, we get brief glimpses of the world from their perspective but most times they are just a normal family going about their daily lives. The humans barely have any presence beyond Shawn wanting to learn more about Arrietty and Hara trying to catch them. The Hara character is also a bit of a conundrum to me. She switches from kindly housemaid that genuinely cares for Shawn and his family to a wicked villain bent on capturing the Borrowers at any cost, so much so that she even has Gargamel-like moments as in the Smurf cartoon show. 

In terms of animation and character quality, The Secret World of Arrietty is still way ahead of its peers but it still falls flatter then it should. There’s not any real comical or exciting moments to entertain the kids throughout and no real depth or whimsy to dazzle the adults. I’m sure when Miyazaki was doing the screenplay for the film, he was trying to stay true to Mary Norton’s book, The Borrowers, but something still feels lacking. If you’re already a fan of Miyazaki and the Studio Ghibli, The Secret World of Arrietty will at least be pleasantly familiar and any not already fans, try giving Spirited Away or Howl’s Moving Castle a try. 


  1. I am a huge lover of Miyazaki animation films. Studio Ghibli films sort of hit home for me at a young age and it was one of the main reasons I grew to love Japanese culture and anime's like Cowboy Bebop, Eureka Seven, etc. I'm excited to see this film, but I'm definitely sad to hear that the feel of this film won't be nearly as magical and whimsical as Miyazaki's previous work.

    I have a collection of Miyazaki films and I've seen quite a few of his past anime movies: Spirited Away, Howl's Moving Castle, Ponyo, Castle In The Sky, Kiki's Delivery Service. There are only a few I haven't seen like Whisper of the Heart - but everything I've ever seen of Miyazaki's has always inspired me to be innovative, keep simple lines in my animation, and the slight childish, whimsical style is something I will always love and it motivates me in everything I design these days.

    So totally looking forward to this movie - Thanks Darrin! I'll take this review with a grain of salt and lick my wounds if it's not to what I'd expect from a Miyazaki film.

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