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Cinema Review: Arrietty (2011)

August 4, 2011


Ok, I’m biased.  It would take a lot for me to dislike a Studio Ghibli film.  The animation is simply too lush, too inspiring…and the perfect argument against the supposed requirement for 3D in modern animated films.

Western audiences’ awareness of Studio Ghibli films usually starts and ends with the films of Hayao Miyazaki.  No wonder, really, given that he heads the studio and has directed the vast majority of their output.  Arrietty could buck that trend though.  While Miyazaki is still heavily involved (on producing and writing duties), the directing reins have been handed to animator Hiromasa Yonebayashi; however, Arrietty is a film which could easily slot into Miyazaki’s back catalogue.  Based on ‘The Borrowers’, it tells a simple tale of a family of ‘little people’ (including the heroine of the picture, Arrietty) who are discovered by a 14 year old boy, and all the dangers encountered as a result.  In lesser hands, it’s a story which could seem underdeveloped.  However, the joy of this (and indeed most Ghibli films) comes from the incredible attention to detail.    The hand-drawn animation is so simple, yet astoundingly beautiful, and Yonebayashi is not afraid to slow down the storytelling in order to let the audience take it all in.  This occurs most memorably in Arrietty’s first trip above the floorboards into a human household; with everything seen from her point of view, even the most ordinary of objects suddenly seem astounding.

The simplicity of the animation is therefore deceiving…and so is the story.  On the surface, it is a simple, easy adventure.  Yet it contains a heroine of great strength and bravery, a very real and sweet central friendship and a genuinely worrying threat.  The ending, meanwhile, is powerful and bittersweet.  Amidst the almost constant barrage of lazy, celebrity-voiced (and yes, 3D-ified)animated films, Studio Ghibli have again proven just how wonderful the medium can be.


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