Before anyone asks, no, I do not have any reason for referencing Falco’s Rock Me Amadeus in the title there. I just thought it sounded funny. And I was right.
More importantly, I saw The Secret World of Arrietty in theaters recently. For those that don’t know, this is the latest work of Studio Ghibli and legendary super-animator Hayao Miyazaki, whose work (in case you didn’t know) includes Spirited Away (2001), which won an Oscar for Best Animated Film, My Neighbor Totoro (1988), whose two main characters had the worst case of ADHD I have ever seen and may have also been on some kind of psychotropic drug, and the utterly shit-wrecking Grave of the Fireflies (1988) which may actually be my favorite, I’m not sure.
I have never seen a Studio Ghibli film that I did not enjoy, except maybe Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989). So, when I found that a new one had come to theaters, I got understandably excited. So, I immediately drove to the nearest movie theater and got my ticket.
As you can see at the bottom of that promotional picture there, The Secret World of Arrietty, is based on The Borrowers by Mary Norton. So, if you’ve read those books, you pretty much know the story. I, however, have not read the book, but from what I’ve gathered from my brief research, the movie actually changes some things around, invents a few character traits, and mixes in a few events from the second book. I’m not complaining or anything. It’s fine if the creators wanted to take some artistic liberties, and I think the changes made everything a little more suited to a movie rather than a novel.
But for those that haven’t read the novel or seen any of the movies entitled The Borrowers (1973, 1992, 1997), the story revolves around a family of tiny people referred to as Borrowers that live underneath a house and take small items such as sugar cubes and pins and other things that won’t be missed from the house above in order to survive. They do this while trying to remain undetected by the resident human ‘beans’ that inhabit the house.
The first thing I noticed while watching was the cast. The title character is played by no one of great import, but the cast includes such names as Amy Poehler, Carol Burnett, and Will Arnett, which seems strange because this movie is most certainly not a comedy. The voice acting is spot-on, but they still seem like odd choices for a drama such as this. Poehler’s and Burnett’s roles are comical at a few points, and that works out fine. But what really got me was Will Arnett’s performance.
Arnett’s character is stone cold serious throughout the entire movie. And this is so weird to me that it took me a few minutes to realize that the person doing the voice was indeed Will Arnett. I didn’t even realize it was legal for him to be anything but a goofball. The performance is perfectly good, but I couldn’t help but boggle every time he spoke just because I couldn’t get used to Will Arnett being serious.
The animation, as is to be expected of any Miyazaki film, is gorgeous and flawless. Studio Ghibli is not to be trifled with when it comes to making a movie look amazing. Even the lip syncing is pretty damn close. You know how when you’re watching an anime and it’s just riddled with run-on sentences, grammatical fuck-ups, and sentences that simply make no sense (“This hand of mine is BURNING RED! Its loud roar tells me to grasp victory!”… Seriously, what the fuck does that mean?), it’s usually because the translated script is written without actually thinking about the lip-syncing. They just translate the words and put them on paper. But Ghibli always seems to take great care in dubbing their movies in such a way that every sentence at least makes sense and fits nicely with the lips of the characters. It’s not always perfect, but it’s something that they seem to be improving with over time. The Secret World of Arrietty got it pretty damn close.
Where Arrietty suffers a bit, however, is in the pacing. The premise is solid, the story is solid, but at the same time, the movie seems to move really slowly. I understand that this is not an action-oriented film, but there still seemed to be an inordinate amount of downtime between the important plot events. I’d even go so far as to say it got boring at a few points. But hey, at least there was a plot (I’m looking at you, My Neighbor Totoro!).
The characters were all memorable and mostly well put together. The human boy, Shawn, was a little bland, and his voice actor didn’t exactly give a riveting performance. Will Arnett’s performance, while pretty good, was a bit boring and monotone. Amy Poehler’s performance was delightful and fit the character near perfectly. But I have to say, the real star performance was that of Carol Burnett. She rocked the role of Hara, Shawn’s caretaker and main antagonist. Her voice acting was hilarious, but at the same time, just the right amount of sinister. She made the movie more than any of the other actors.
The Secret World of Arrietty is by no means my favorite Studio Ghibli film. It was definitely worth seeing. And I’d probably watch it again some time in the future. It certainly had its share of imperfections, but on the whole, I’d still say it was pretty good.