Based on the children’s novel, The Borrowers, by Mary Norton, The Secret World of Arrietty (Kari-gurashi no Arietti) affords the master animators at Studio Ghibli the opportunity to delve deep into the minutiae of everyday places and objects. In fact, no film has so perfectly showcased the legendary anime studio’s affinity for and attention to detail as Arrietty. Although the studio is most often associated with the work of director Hayao Miyazaki, Hiromasa Yonebayashi, a key animator on Miyazaki’s Academy Award-winning Spirited Away (2002), Howl’s Moving Castle (2005) and Ponyo (2008), makes his directorial debut on Arrietty from a screenplay co-written by Miyazaki, and delivers a masterful picture at that.
The film centers on the tentative bond formed between young Arrietty, one of a tiny race of people who call themselves the Borrowers, and a human boy named Sho, their friendship complicated by the Borrowers’ justifiable mistrust of humans. Living amongst the humans, but always out of sight, the Borrowers survive on the wealth of small items they “borrow” from humans while they sleep. Yet so tiny are they, that a single, borrowed sugar cube, can last a family for months. They are a race on the verge of extinction, who, due to their size, live in constant fear of being devoured by cats, crushed by cockroaches, or being discovered by unfriendly humans.
Yonebayashi weaves a deceptively simple tale of trust and determination that is at once epic and perilous from the vantage point of a Borrower and yet almost insignificant from a human perspective. Herein lies the real charm of the film. Through Ghibli’s typically gorgeous animation, astonishing attention to detail, and the consistent scaling of the film world down to Arrietty’s perspective, Arrietty achieves incredible scope and grandeur while confining its narrative to a house and the surrounding yard.
The Secret World of Arrietty is now available in a 2-disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack from Walt Disney Studios. The release includes an English dub of the film with young Disney stars Bridgit Mendler and David Henrie, as well as Amy Poehler, Will Arnett, and Carol Burnett. I can’t speak to the quality of the dub. Being something of an anime purist, I tend to avoid dubs, especially where anime features are concerned. But I can tell you from the brief time I spent with the dub that the names of characters not drawn from The Borrowers books have been Americanized in the dub and that switching audio languages also changes the language in which text appears on the screen. Special features on Blu-ray disc include original Japanese storyboards, Japanese trailers and TV spots, a music video for “Arrietty’s Song” by Cécile Corbel, a music video for “Summertime” by Bridgit Mendler, and a making of “Summertime” featurette. The DVD features merely the “Summertime” video and the accompanying making-of featurette.