Studio Ghibli’s latest film takes place in the suburbs of modern day Tokyo, where 12-year-old Sho rests up in his grandmother’s house in preparation for his operation. However, he soon becomes aware of a small family of little people known as borrowers and takes a shine to 14-year-old Arrietty, who is desperate to prove to her father that she is a worthy borrower. However the humans are not to know that borrowers exist and through Arrietty’s curiosity of Sho’s kindness, she throws their secret and comfortable life into jeopardy.
After 17 films, it’s fair to say that Studio Ghibli is becoming the masters of children’s animation and a huge rival to Walt Disney’s success. Ghibli films are loved by both children and adults alike all over the world, and they appear to have the same effect that Pixar‘s films have; regardless of what the film is about, you’ll go and watch it because you know that it will be good and that it will surprise you. Not just that, but Arrietty is based on the famous British book, The Borrowers by Mary Norton: which will no doubt bring in an even wider range of people, with many remembering the popular 1990’s BBC adaptation starring Jim Broadbent. This version isn’t so much an adaptation but more of an ‘inspired by’, with Studio Ghibli taking the colourful world of The Borrowers and making it a little more modern with a heartfelt story.
It’s difficult to miss the theme of strong female leads present in nearly all Ghibli films. With this in mind, Arrietty is like a miniature warrior princess with her fearless attitude and pin as a sword. She’s actively rebellious which is incredibly likable in a character and feels astoundingly realistic, much like other Ghibli heroines, including Chihiro from Spirited Away, and Sophie from Howl’s Moving Castle amongst many others. That being said, though the lead is female it is not a film just for girls – Sho is a young boy with a heart problem and his relationship with Arrietty is so touching and strong that the ending may have you dabbing your eyes. The balance is just right with comedy, action and emotion. An early scene with Arrietty on her first ‘borrowing’ adventure with her father may have you holding your breath with her as she sneaks around the house all for a cube of sugar.
It’s not just the story which is strong; the animation and artwork in general is simply stunning. The backdrops are soft and colourful and are some of the most vibrant backgrounds ever seen in a Ghibli film. In particular, when Sho is outside relaxing in the glorious garden, the lighting is quite breathtaking and becomes a character itself rather than just being the colour behind the characters.
The difficultly in having the main characters on such a small scale is keeping the proportions right between the little people, the surroundings and the humans. Thankfully, you can tell the animators and all of those behind the making of Arrietty have done their research. You’re subtly reminded that Arrietty and her family are incredibly small with little things in the background taking you by surprise; for example an engagement ring box is used as a chest to store things. The details are so fine that it would take a few more viewings to appreciate it all and spot something that you missed before.
The length of the film is worth taking into account. Ghibli classic Spirited Away’s only downfall is its supreme length – over two hours long, and bearing in mind that these films are primarily for children, it can get quite tedious for the younger audiences. At just over 90 minutes, Arrietty is the perfect length and will keep children entertained all the way through. No doubt it will capture their imagination and will make them wonder if there are little people under the floorboards and climbing up the dry wall.
The soundtrack was composed and sung by French harpist Cécile Corbel, which fits suitably with the film. It’s light music that is stirring and echoes the beautiful scenery within the film as well as capturing the magic of the little people. It’s also refreshing to have a dub cast in English, with UK cinemas exhibiting the film with either the English dub or the Japanese, but not the American. The voice cast for the English dub are an incredibly talented bunch, including Saoirse Ronan (Arrietty), Tom Holland (Sho) and Mark Strong (Pod). The lip sync is of a great quality, making this a dub not to shy away from, but rather embrace. Let’s hope that in the future there will be more dubs for anime with an English cast and not just American.
Arrietty is going to be one of Ghibli’s classics and is easily re-watchable. It’s compelling from start to finish and will leave you thinking about it long after you leave the cinema. Without a doubt your inner child will be overjoyed and your imagination flowing with thoughts, as you wonder whether or not someone from under the floorboards is borrowing all those small-misplaced items around your house.
Arrietty is out in cinemas nationwide from 29th July and will be out on DVD later this year.