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"THE SECRET WORLD OF ARRIETTY"
(2012) (voices of Bridgit Mendler, David Henrie) (G)

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QUICK TAKE:
Animated Drama/Fantasy: A young teen, who lives under the floorboards of a house along with her similarly-sized, miniature parents, befriends a sickly, full-sized boy, thus possibly endangering her and her family.
PLOT:
Arrietty (voice of BRIDGIT MENDLER) is a young teenager who lives in a nice house with her parents, Pod (voice of WILL ARNETT) and Homily (voice of AMY POEHLER). The only difference between them and other families is that they stand only a few inches tall and live under the floorboards of a closet in the house.

Known as borrowers, they only come out when the full-sized humans aren't around or likely to discover them, and borrow (or, more accurately, steal) small items the homeowners will never miss. That could be anything ranging from a single sugar cube to a lone tissue, things that will last the little people months if not longer.

The ever cautious Pod is concerned that a new human has arrived. He's Shawn (voice of DAVID HENRIE), a young and sickly teen who's been sent by his parents to stay with his Aunt Jessica (voice of GRACLE POLETTI) and her housekeeper, Hara (voice of CAROL BURNETT), while awaiting surgery on his bad heart. Arrietty isn't scared, however, especially after Shawn proves he intends her no harm, but Pod and especially the ultra-nervous Homily want her to keep away from him.

For they know, just like another borrower, the feral-type Spiller (voice of MOISES ARIAS), that once humans have found them, it's only a matter of time before things quickly go downhill, thus necessitating a hasty move to another house. And with Shawn's repeated attempts at interaction with Arrietty, it's quite likely that Hara will find her and her family as well.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
It's interesting watching the evolution of movie animation over the decades. Regardless of whatever manual or automated tools have been deployed to bring what are otherwise still images into motion and thus life, the goal -- of course -- is to transport viewers into a make believe world. Granted, and thanks to ever-increasing amounts of computer processing horsepower, there was something akin to a cinematic arms race of recent to create the most photo realistic and believable cinematic characters.

That now appears to be over, for the most part at least, as companies like Pixar and DreamWorks are sticking with more cartoonish characters, with exaggerated features in their tales. That said, the computer technology is still readily apparent and there's little doubt the lights likely dimmed in communities around those production houses when the graphic processing kicked into high gear creating lush backgrounds, fluid and flowing camera movement and more.

Thus, it's sometimes something of a welcome respite to see some old school animation. You know, the kind that's seemingly all hand drawn, with lots of attention to detail without any pretense of being the next great animated spectacle and trying to one-up the competition. Such is the case with "The Secret World of Arrietty," the U.S. version of the Japanese film "The Borrower Arrietty" (and known in the U.K. and Australia as simply "Arrietty").

As the Japanese title obviously indicates, the tale is based on author Mary Norton's children's fantasy novel, "The Borrowers," first published way back in 1952. That story has been filmed before, most notably as the live-action 1998 film featuring John Goodman, Jim Broadbent and Hugh Laurie and Tom Felton in smaller parts. Considering it's pretty much a timeless tale of miniature people who "borrow" everyday items from regular-sized humans who won't miss the things and initially are unaware of their very small house companions, it's no surprise adaptations pop up from time to time.

The BBC just did a new live action version last year, and now the filmmaking folks at Studio Ghibli -- responsible for films such as "Princess Mononoke," "Spirited Away" and "Ponyo" -- have tackled Norton's tale. Like those other releases, it's been done in the old-fashioned anime style, meaning somewhat stiff-looking characters inhabiting a world that appears like one big and glorious, watercolor type canvas.

While that appearance (that many an adult will probably love) might be jarring to some younger viewers weaned on the slick and sharp appearance of computer-animated flicks, they'll certainly identify with the protagonists, their plight, and their place in the world that's metaphorically as well as literally quite enormous to them.

There's the title character (voiced in the U.S. version by Bridgit Mendler) who has loving but sometimes slightly suffocating parents (voiced by Will Arnett and Amy Poehler) and is an only child with no friends. She ends up cautiously befriending a sickly boy (voiced by David Henrie) who's staying with his aunt (Grace Poletti) and her housekeeper (Carol Burnett) while awaiting surgery on his faulty heart. That's a condition that's left him with a fatalistic view of his chances, but also a maturity and calmness about his place in the world that far exceeds his biological age.

Not only does director Hiromasa Yonebayashi -- operating from a screenplay adaptation of Norton's work by Hayao Miyazaki & Keiko Niwa -- get those parts right, but he also perfectly captures the essence of the borrowers being small beings in a very big world. Yes, that's been done many times before on screen -- both in adaptations of this tale as well as other such works -- but there's something about the way Yonebayashi and his animators have fashioned this film's look that the viewer really experiences the sense of wonder and awe as Arrietty explores and exists in this land of the giants.

The story isn't anything terribly complex and certainly (by design as an adaptation) not novel, and for some it might move a bit slowly at times. Despite such potential objections, I found it fairly mesmerizing for the most part. Like its title character, it's a small tale told with a lot of heart, and for those looking for a throwback to non-computer-animated films, this could be your answer. "The Secret World of Arrietty" rates as a 7 out of 10.




Reviewed February 11, 2012 / Posted February 17, 2012


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