Over the weekend I had the pleasure of watching the newest movie from Studio Ghibli – The Borrower Arrietty (Japan)/The Secret World of Arrietty (USA), produced by the esteemed Hayao Miyazaki. If you’re unsure of who Miyazaki is, you should definitely get off this page, and get to
Netflix (well, they don’t really have much of a selection after all) Blockbusters (are they still in business?) stat!
Let me first say that hand drawn animation will always be superior to CGI animation. Although I love how realistic CGI looks (e.g.: Wall-E, UP), there’s something about animation that’s hand drawn that gives it more of a human touch. Every time I watch a Studio Ghibli film, I get chills. Growing up watching animated shows and movies, I just tend to gravitate towards them.
The Borrower Arrietty is about little (real little) people (like Tinkerbell little, not today’s LPA definition of “little people” little) that live in the nooks and crannies of one’s homes and throughout their lives, would “borrow” (hence their names of the “Borrowers”) from their gigantic counterparts, items without their knowledge. So if you’re looking around, and you’re missing a pin, clip, little toys of sorts, you know who’s behind it. We focus on the family of Arrietty, who is the daughter living with mom Homily, and dad Pod. Pod is the de facto gatherer of needed items for the home, until one day Arrietty decides to join him in the art of Borrowing.
This review is for The Borrower Arrietty only. I haven’t watched the Disney’s version of it yet. I’m a little bit loathed to do so, even though I’m a huge Amy Poehler fan because what’s the point of dubbing something that is already great? It may be great for lazy people who can’t bother to read subtitles, but oftentimes different voice actors can take away from a great original piece of art and that itself is a huge disservice to viewers.
[Spoilers Ahead, so read ONLY if you’ve watched this movie already, or if you really love spoilers like I do.]
Much like any movie, you have the tale of a girl coming of age and looking for adventure. Pod introduces the human world to Arrietty, and teaches her that the most important thing to borrowing, is not to be seen by the “human beans” (a play on the word beings I presume). What Pod didn’t know was that earlier when the human bean Sho was arriving to his Aunt Sadako’s home, he had caught a glimpse of Arrietty but was unsure of what he had seen.
The father and daughter traverse through the secret passages that lead to the human bean’s home where they borrow necessities such as tissue paper and a sugar cube. When they go to get the tissue paper which was located in Sho’s room, Arrietty loses the sugar cube she was carrying when she sees that Sho is awake instead of blissfully sleeping in ignorance of their existence. That was a great scene, you assume they would’ve gotten away with it, she just freezes and you see Sho’s wide eyes in a mixture of amazement and knowing. She blushes, and I’m not sure if it’s more from being seen, or that because she’s a teenage girl, it’s the start of a crush.
After that, they promise not to worry Homily and neglect to tell them about encountering Sho. Let the worrying begin- when Arrietty comes out of the grate that leads to the wide garden and finds a note under the sugar cube that basically says that he knows about them. She wants to take the cube but decides not to. Pod warns her that to take it would confirm his assumption of their presence. To do so would be dangerous, as we get a little bit of background about the Borrowers. There used to be two other families that lived in Sadako’s house as well, but one day one family disappeared, and the other just moved away (which if my math is correct, would just leave Arrietty’s family). They don’t know what happened to the disappeared family, so they keep themselves secret so that they don’t end up like them.
Sho learns about the Borrowers. The history came from his Aunt, who had told him how her family had built a working doll house in hopes that one day the Borrowers would come and live there. Alas since the Borrowers don’t know the intentions of the humans (and having one family disappear definitely didn’t help), they have mostly stayed out of sight. The housekeeper Haru, seems to be interested in the Borrowers as well, only her disposition on them is the opposite of Sho and his Aunt’s. We can tell who’s going to be the antagonist in this story here at this point.
Haru is an ugly character. Why are all ugly characters considered evil? I mean, we can gather that they’re evil right when we see them. It’s a little unfair. Of course she turns out to be bad, she’s ugly, oh and she tries to kill the Borrowers. Okay not kill, trap. Much more humane, right?
After that, one day Sho decides to take the kitchen out of the dollhouse and put it in Arrietty’s house, which is located conveniently underneath the floorboard in a trapdoor inside a closet by the front door. Great hiding place. He does this whole “I am god” thing, by taking out their old kitchen, and putting in the new one. While the new kitchen is beautiful, their house isn’t (what house would, if Earthquake Sho hit it?). That scares the family even more into moving, even though Arrietty is convinced that Sho is benign. While Sho had great intentions, he’s a kid after all, and doesn’t clean up his tracks well. Haru discovers a toy cup on the stairs, and figures out where the Borrowers are living. Dun dun dunnn.
Aunt Sadako leaves the house, and Sho is out reading in the garden. Arrietty goes and talks to Sho. She learns about his heart condition (there’s always got to be something to tug at your heartstrings) when he gets all depressive and tells her that her days are numbered because there’s 6.7 Billion humans on Earth and probably a handful of Borrowers left (way to be awesome, Sho). While that’s happening, Haru kidnaps Homily. I wish that they hadn’t made Homily such a nervous character. She just froze in terror, whereas her daughter and husband would’ve acted. I like strong feminine characters in movies, and her character irked me so.
Arrietty hears her mom screaming. I find that a little bit far fetched, as she was in the garden and the mom was in the house. The distance is a bit far and considering that their voices must be like mouse squeaks to humans, I don’t know how Arrietty heard her cry from such a distance. Also, how Sho manages to hear her clearly without her using a bullhorn of sorts is magical in itself- but- you don’t really watch a Studio Ghibli film for science, now do you?
So naturally Haru has the mom in a jar (because where do you keep little people), Sho and Arrietty has to go rescue mom before the exterminators come (oh you thought that Haru would do the dirty work of getting rid of the Borrowers? Nope, she’s outsourced it to the local pest control company to trap them as proof that they exist). They (Sho & Arrietty) rescue the mom and the family moves. The family is helped by Spiller, a (do we call him feral) Borrower who finds Pod and helps him back to the house when Pod is injured. Anyway, so Spiller tells them that there’s more Borrowers in the city and they can move there if they want. That gives them the reason to move and keep their existence a secret. Sho says goodbye to Arrietty and they part ways, nice and sweetly. She gives him her hairclip as a reminder of their friendship and he gives her a sugar cube as a parting gift. I have to say, this my friends, is where one would be bawling like a baby at this point.
This movie was so awesome. The art, the story, everything. BUT– why was it such a short movie? It felt rushed. I mean, it’s great. It just felt horribly rushed. We get the feeling that there’s an antagonist but there’s no reason to why she is the antagonist. We just are left with her just being foiled. There was no rhyme or reason. Did she hate the Borrowers because she tried to befriend them and they left? Did she hate them because she wants the dollhouse? We are left wondering. Also, what happened to the family that disappeared? Another mystery. I understand that they wanted to keep the focus just on Arrietty and her family, but at the same time, a little bit of story being fleshed out would have been nice to see too.