Tour de Ghibli: The Secret World of Arrietty
Released: 2010 (Japan), 2012 (United States)
Brief Synopsis: A young boy with a heart problem comes to the countryside to rest, where he meets a family of little people, calling themselves “borrowers.”
Themes: Like Ponyo, The Secret World of Arrietty is about friendship. The relationship between Arrietty and Shō is at the center of the film, and its slow development helps each other become better people. Tied in with this are the problems they each overcome; one mistakes recklessness for courage while the other views the world through a defeatist lens, but they slowly help the other learn the importance of emotional maturity. The movie also examines consumerism and how we value certain things over others. The borrowers only steal things that humans won’t miss, most of which is food. They take small amounts, not enough to raise suspicion. But Arrietty’s father warns her against taking items from a dollhouse, stating that the humans would notice immediately. No one notices when small amounts of food are gone, even though we need it to survive, but plastic toys will raise immediate suspicion.
Animation: The Secret World of Arrietty boasts absolutely stunning animation, which is made even more impressive in this movie because of the perspective of Arrietty and her family. At barely 4 inches tall, the world familiar to us is frightening and imposing to Arrietty. From her perspective, things we take for granted, like the texture of leaves and the grain of wood, are rendered in absolutely stunning detail.
Sub vs. Dub: I haven’t seen the film in Japanese yet, but that’s because I can’t find a method in which to see it. (As of writing this, the film was released in American theaters 2.5 weeks ago.) I plan on watching it in Japanese once it is released on home media. But the English was pretty good; it certainly wasn’t bad the way some of the Ghibli dubs are (Laputa: Castle in the Sky, Whisper of the Heart), and Amy Poehler and Will Arnett, as Arrietty’s parents, were great. I also liked Arrietty’s voice a lot. However, I couldn’t stand the voice actor playing Shō, and Carol Burnett was equal parts good and over-the-top. There is also a particular scene in which the dialogue is very clunky; I really hope that it was because of poor re-scripting rather than a clunky scene in the original. Finally, the American version has an added closing narration from Shō which alters the ending a bit. Strangely enough, there are 2 English dubs for this movie, one with American actors, produced by Disney, and one with British actors. I hope to see the British version as well as the original Japanese to see how well those voices fit the characters.
Update: As I noted above, I expected to like this film better in Japanese, but I didn’t realize how big of a difference the language track would make. The Secret World of Arrietty is a much stronger film in Japanese; the voices fit the characters so much better than the English actors do, and it turns out that some of the weaker dialogue in the English version is the result of changes, and is not present in the original. (That one scene is still a bit clunky, but not nearly as much as it was in English.) Homily is a lot less whiny and Haru isn’t as over-the-top. I liked Shō’s voice much better (he sounded closer to his age than the English actor), and although I liked the Borrowers’ English voices, all three of them were much better in the original Japanese. I think this may be the first English dub that I liked but have no desire to ever watch again (usually, when I like the English dubs, I either like them better than the Japanese, or end up having no preference). I really think that the Japanese language track had a marked increase on my enjoyment of this movie. (Also, in Japanese, the film doesn’t end with that bad song by the American Arrietty, which is so tonally out of place in the film.)
Verdict: While this film isn’t my top tier of Ghibli films [well, maybe it is now after seeing it in Japanese], this is a fantastic movie. It’s not an epic film like Princess Mononoke or Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s a fun, beautiful, delightful film that is a beautiful, emotional experience.
*Note* I won’t be doing a post about Tales From Earthsea, because, as I said, I turned it off after 30 minutes because I hated it so much.