‘The Secret World of Arrietty’ Blu-ray Review
There are few tales as timeless as ‘The Borrowers’, the acclaimed book series by Mary Norton. I remember growing up watching a live action adaptation starring John Goodman, Jim Broadbent, and Tom Felton, just a few years before he would become Draco Malfoy. I’ve always enjoyed the books, so I was really excited when I heard that Studio Ghibli had decided to take a swing at the stories. And let me say, they did not disappoint. ‘The Secret World of Arrietty’ is not only one of the studios best films to date, but one of the best films of the year. It’s a truly great film with an adventurous spirit, but one that also has some emotional heft that really knocks the wind out of you. With a great voice cast including Will Arnett, Bridgit Mendler, Amy Poehler, Moises Arias, David Henrie, and Carol Burnett, this movie has the chance to be my favorite animated movie of the year, and I’m wondering if anything can top this.
The Borrowers live in secret under the floor boards, never disturbing the world around them. They do what they have to do to get by, often borrowing things from the human hosts around them. Arrietty (Mendler) is an adventurous spirit and can’t wait to go on her first borrowing with her father, against her mother’s wishes. But during her first borrowing, David (Henrie), a young boy who has just moved into the house to be taken care of by his aunt, discovers Arrietty and her father. Having heard stories of the little people before, David decides to befriend Arrietty, something Arrietty’s parents don’t agree with. But when the housekeeper, Hara (Burnett), begins to take notice of David’s actions, she begins a hunt to find the little people she’s always heard rumors of.
I was always looking forward to seeing this one, and I’m not sure why I’m shocked by the emotional punch the movie held, because like every one of Studio Ghibli’s films before, the characters and the emotions are the biggest focus. They want to make sure we care about these characters and really feel for them, and they’ve done that in spades here. Arrietty is that free spirited young teenager we all once were, who felt like they were bigger than the world we lived in and could take on anything, no matter how big. David is the other end of the spectrum. He’s a quiet, reserved, and sees life in a light that not everything can be taken on, and eventually life will always beat you down. It’s a very interesting dynamic, and the secret friendship they form is one of the best I have seen in a long time. It just works so well, with Mendler and Henrie bringing the best to both of these characters, really making them feel fleshed out and real. There is a scene during the second act where Arritty and David talk about life, and David rocks Arrietty’s world when he tells her that in life, eventually it’ll catch up with you, and we’ll all die. Arrietty is taken back by this, and they get in a heated debate about life, fate, and what it means to truly live. It’s a very powerful scene, one of the most powerful of any of the Ghibli films. In fact, it’s one of the most powerful animated movie scenes I’ve seen period. The tension in the scene is palpable, and you can just see how shaken Arrietty is by what David is saying. I feel like we don’t see many scenes in family movies like this, and this one really packed a wallop for me. It may be the strongest scene in the movie, and it’s incredibly moving to watch play out. I’m just so impressed that Studio Ghibli has been able to keep making such great movies with the characters and emotions as a central focus, no matter what the story is. It’s a true credit to the type of storytelling they like to do, and love them for it.
The rest of the cast is good as well, especially Carol Burnett as Hara, the housekeeper. She’s got a bit of a mean streak, and she’s convinced that the “little people” are nothing but thieves, and she’ll do anything to get rid of them. Burnett plays the voice so well, and I’m so very impressed with the casting decision of having her do it. It’s just brilliant and works so well. I also liked Amy Poehler as Arrietty’s mother, Homily, who wants nothing but the best for her daughter, but is also too scared to let her go. Poehler brings the right balance of love and hesitation to the character, and I really liked her in it. Arnett is good, but I couldn’t help but think of Batman anytime he talked with the low and gravely voice he used throughout the movie. There are worse things to be compared to though. The movie finds a nice balance between the drama and humor in the movie, never really feeling like it’s walking a fine line. The music was really great in the film as well. It really added a great feel to the movie. Music plays an important part in films, and if you don’t have a score to match the movie, it can really effect it. I’m glad that they take the time to make sure they get a score that really fits the film. I’m definitely going to be looking for the score from the movie, because it’s great. I really the beginning of the movie during Arrietty’s first borrowing, because it had a really fun and adventurous spirit, and the animation through it was breathtaking. Actually, the animation, not surprisingly, through the whole movie is just incredible. I loved the look and feel of the movie, and Ghibli just goes to prove that they are still one of the predominant studios in the anime business right now.
Of course, I’m happy to report that Disney has once again outdone themselves on the blu-ray edition of ‘The Secret World of Arrietty’. The transfer is absolutely beautiful, and it’s really something to behold. The animation is just crisp and clear, everything is very detailed, down to the smallest lines in the characters and scenery. Disney is just turning out some great transfers with these Studio Ghibli releases, and as a fan of their movies, nothing please me more than to see that. They also did a bang up job on audio mix as well. Featuring a 5.1 DTS HD mix, it really brings the movie’s sound to life in a great way. There is no weird sound deformities, and everything sounds crystal clear. It’s wonderful. Also featured is the original Japanese audio recordings, also in 5.1 DTS, so fans of the original language versions will be very pleased to see it has been put here. The two disc set also features a few special features, including the entire film in its original storyboards, which is a highlight all of its own. It’s very cool seeing a movie in it’s original rough form like that, and I had a great time watching it that way. Also featured are the original Japanese trailers and TV spots, two music videos, “Summertime” performed by Bridgit Mendler, the voice of Arrietty, and “Arrietty’s Song”, performed by Cecile Corbel. There is also a small making of the “Summertime” music video.
“The Secret World of Arrietty” is not only one of Studio Ghibli’s best films, but one of the best films of the year, and one of the best animated movies I’ve ever seen. Featuring a stellar voice cast, a great story about friendship and life, and a great mix of humor and emotional punch, this is a movie that is really the whole package. It just really works. Disney doesn’t disappoint either with this great blu-ray/DVD combo, featuring some great special features, an incredible transfer, and an excellent sound mix. I’m glad to say that once again, Studio Ghibli really delivers, and I’m not surprised. Their work is just incredible. I love what they do, and I think that for those who haven’t experienced their movies yet, this is a great place to start. This is definitely one to add to your blu-ray collection. Highly recommended.