Movie Review - The Secret World of Arriety

Disney is the distributor but this is a Japanese animated film in the style of Hiyao Miyazaki (Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle). It's sad because this cartoon lacks the epic adventure quality of Miyazaki's previous films, the grand sense of wonder, the larger-than-life nature. This film tries to have that, but doesn't quite get there.

Based on the book The Borrowers, the conceit is a family of little people who live under the floors of a country house near a forest. The family consists of three little people, a mother, a father and a teenage girl named Arriety. In order to survive, these little people venture from under the floors into the rooms of the big people, the humans, and take bits of food and supplies that they need.

Arriety and her family don't identify themselves as human even though they look human. They don't identify themselves as insects, even though that's essentially how they behave. The only difference is that they know that the humans can never know they exist. If humans did know, it would be a revelation of a scientific marvel. Questions would arise as to whether their origins are a Honey, I Shrunk the Kids situation or if it's just a weird form of dwarfism.

When it comes to scavenging for food and supplies, Arriety has to learn the ropes. Her father teaches her and she takes to it quickly. Yet, on her first field trip, one of the big humans, a teenage boy named Shawn, sees her and learns of her existence. It's a careful approach but eventually a friendship forms.

Once Arriety's parents realize this friendship has formed, they debate whether they should leave. They see the friendship as a road to danger, which does bear some truth. Shawn lives in this country house with an older woman named Hara, voiced by Carol Burnett, who's like Mrs. Kravitz from Bewitched. She's always poking and snooping around, suspect of everything.

This is as far as the movie goes though. There was so much room for exploration and discovery. There was so much room for fun, but the filmmakers don't want to have it. Instead, Shawn philosophizes about death. I suppose it would have been beyond the boundaries of Disney to hope that a romance could have happened between Arriety and Shawn, but not even as much as a kiss transpires.

The animation is of course beautiful, almost impeccable. A good chunk of the movie takes place in a garden, which is just exploding with bright, colorful flowers. Every frame of this film could be a painting on your wall. It's just undone by the fact that it's so boring. The soundtrack did feature some nice, if on-the-nose songs, including "Summertime."

Two Stars out of Five.
Rated G for everyone.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 34 mins.


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