Such a comfortable feeling, putting in this Blu-ray and (after the various promos) seeing a beautiful view of a trip to the country. It’s the perfect introduction to the world of Studio Ghibli, with their stories of magical discovery in simple, natural life.
Shawn (David Henrie) is going to spend at week at the house where his mother grew up, one where he will discover an amazing secret: There are little people in the walls who live on discards they scrounge from the human “beans”. But first, there’s the drive through the detailed recreation of a Japanese city. As the car moves through the credit sequence, we go with it into a more wholesome, heartwarming world.
But then, I expected no less from a Studio Ghibli release. The animation is beautiful, creating a place to get lost in. Nature is always a partner of our existence, and scenes with the teenage Arrietty (Bridgit Mendler) scampering through the outdoors, fleeing the cat, are some of my favorites. I also adore the way she’s turned her room into a jungle, with flowers and leaves everywhere, and a later rain scene is equally impressive in its skillful drawing.
Arrietty and her parents (Amy Poehler and Will Arnett) are discovered by Shawn after she goes on her first borrowing trip with her father. The cleverness of their inventions, like the rock and string elevator and the way they reuse bits of castoffs, have always impressed me. (Many are taken from the original book by Mary Norton, The Borrowers.)
The conflict revolves around a fundamental question: how much can we trust those not like us? Arrietty would like to believe that Shawn wants to help them, but the adults are fearful of any notice from the big people, believing it will only bring them danger. Sadly, they turn out to be correct, as the housekeeper (Carol Burnett) is determined to prove herself right about the little people in the floor. Burnett does an amazing job, by the way, with a number of scenes punctuated only by sounds — chuckles, humming, muttering, and similar noises we make to ourselves.
I’ve previously linked to the movie trailer as well as a series of clips if you’d like to see samples of the movie.
Throughout the story, I felt relaxed, allowing myself to sink into this escape. Although there are scenes of both adventure and danger, those, too, were reassuring in their artistic achievement. It was just what I needed, to visually soak in these beautiful images and reminders of what’s important: family and friends. Between the scenes of little people life and the garden environment of the home, the movie is full of imagination in so many ways.
This story is perfect for animation, since the characters of various sizes can be drawn without worry about matching up special effects. It’s a gorgeous film with an involving story, although what happens isn’t the only point. How it happens — or rather, the way we see it unfold, in a fully realized drawn world — is the true source of enjoyment. This may very well be my new favorite Ghibli film.
The two-disc Blu-ray combo pack comes with a DVD copy of the movie and these extras:
- The original Japanese storyboards — I was amazing to see this was the entire 94-minute film in storyboard form, with the soundtrack played on top.
- 14 minutes of Japanese trailers and TV spots, with English captions — These are very repetitive in imagery, using the same few shots from the movie, but fans will like seeing how the film was promoted in its home country. No menu listing is provided, only chapter stops to move through the 27 clips. Near the end are five or so insurance company tie-in ads.
- A music video for “Arrietty’s Song”, performed by singer/ songwriter/ harpist Cécile Corbel. There aren’t any movie clips included, just performance footage with some nature images inspired by the film. The clips were put in the other video, see below.
The only extras on the DVD edition are a music video for “Summertime”, performed by Bridgit Mendler, voice of Arrietty, with a certain amount of twang, and a two-minute making-of for that music video. I would rather not have seen Mendler in person, since she comes across as a typical Disney starlet-in-training. Her portrayal doesn’t match my view of the Arrietty character, although it is nice to hear that she wrote the song herself. These two features can also be seen on the Blu-ray.
The movie soundtrack is available in English, French, or Japanese, and/or with subtitles in English, French, or English for the hearing-impaired. (The studio provided a review copy.)