Posted by psgels on 19 June 2011 with categories: Anime Reviews

Oh heck, Studio Ghibli did it again. With this, they created yet another must-watch for all ages. If you like family movies, it really is a must-watch.

Now, Ghibli makes two kinds of movies: epic adventure movies, and slice of life movies that often have fantasy adventure themes. Arrietty belongs to the latter, as it shows how a young boy meets a fantasy creature known as one of the borrowers: tiny people who borrow small stuff from humans in order to survive. That kind of set-up is common, but rather than “boy meets fantastical creature”, this movie makes it “fantastical creature meets boy”. Unlike the vast majority of these kinds of movies, we follow Arrietty, how she lives, where she lives, and what she does. And dear God, this movie is good at that.

This movie is meticulously detailed in order to make its setting come alive. Nearly the entire movie just takes place in one house in a small forest, but the creators put a ton of small ideas and detail into just about every scene. The amount of things that these borrowers create from the stuff that they borrow from the humans is immense, the movie is full of all kinds of different kinds of animals, ranging from bugs to mice and birds. It’s a lush movie that just sparkles with life wherever it goes.

Also: the animation. Let me say that out of all of the Ghibli movies not directed by Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, this one has the best visuals. The backgrounds in particular are just gorgeous, but what feels unique about the animation is how the creators succeeded in showing the difference between large and big. I mean, the main character is about ten centimetres high. When big things are around her, they really look BIG. Especially the way in which humans are animated next to her: that was done in such a way that I have never seen before.

There’s only one major weakness in this movie, and that is some forced conflict near the end of the movie. I’m not talking about the actual ending (which really was great), but the climax before that, in which this movie suddenly turns into one of those preachy environmentalist movies for ten minutes with a conflict and villain that just don’t fit the mood at all. It’s an act that feels like it doesn’t belong in the movie in terms of tone and themes, not to mention that the ‘villain’ is pretty pathetic.

The rest of the movie is environmental, but not at all preachy. Instead it focuses on the subtle tensions between coexisting species, not pointing a bad finger but rather letting everything resolve itself naturally. It’s got some wonderful characters to back this up with (again, the animation really brings these guys to life) with really good voice acting. Despite that one hiccup near the end, it’s a wonderful watch.

Storytelling: 8/10 – Down to earth, well paced and mature, with perhaps one forced bit near the end.
Characters: 8/10 – There may not be much interesting development, but the acting is excellent, and the characters really come to life. It’s got a bad villain, though.
Production-Values: 9/10 – Gorgeous artwork, detailed beyond belief, not to mention the wonderful soundtrack.
Setting: 9/10 – Immensely detailed in describing the life and environment of the main character. There are a ton of ideas in just about every scene.

Kiki’s Delivery Service
Furusato, Japan
Porco Rosso

22 Responses

  1. Firechick says:

    Want to know what’s even more mind-boggling about this movie? It’s directed by a complete newbie! Not Miyazaki or Takahata, but a new guy named Yonebayashi.

    And man! I want to see this! I don’t want to wait until 2012 to see it in theaters or own it on DVD!

  2. Joojoobees says:

    I’m looking forward to seeing this as well. If nothing else, Ghibli films are great to watch with my young nieces. I bring over a DVD and get some of my brother-in-law’s delicious home cooking. Everybody’s happy!

  3. kurini (kleeny) says:

    I want to watch this too! I hope the subs will come out soon!! And I like family movie! Thank you for the review!

  4. kurini says:

    I want to watch this too! I hope the subs will come out soon!! And I like family movie! Thank you for the review!

  5. signorRossi says:

    As soon as the BD is out I will get it and not watch it before that. I could wait for the Ponyo BD, so it should be possible for this movie too. :)

  6. signorRossi says:

    As soon as the BD is out I will get it and not watch it before that. I could wait for the Ponyo BD, so it should be possible for this movie too. :)

  7. Joe says:

    Excellent movie
    100/100 for me

  8. Watcherzero says:

    Is this a straight up adaptation of the British book? I notice the main charachters names identical.

  9. Ebod says:

    Can’t wait for the movie to be released here so I can see it on the big screen.

  10. senerikfred says:

    @Watcherzone: This is going on Wikipedia’s summary of the first book, but no. The events and human residents are different and Spiller shows up, though what happens on the whole is similar. The environmental themes are Ghibli-style, so I believe that approach was changed as well.

  11. m says:

    The Studio Ghibli signature is one of futility of war, green aesops, routinely subverting conflict in fiction, flying, and so forth.

    This film captures the wonder of Spirited Away with a bit of a green aesop. For a Ghibli film, it surprisingly has something you could call a plot, which seems to be part of what you didn’t like. It’s telegraphed from the beginning of course by the appearance of the character. Ugly characters are frequently villainous; it’s the laziest of animated film tendencies. It’s further hinted at again and again, as she makes those ugly facial expressions and the parents’ warning of the dangers of sticking around after being seen.

    As to the structure of this movie, it loosely adapts the structure of the book. The details are totally different, but the part you complain about preserves a similar series of events from the book. It’s been given something of a happier ending, since the danger is dispensed with easily and Sho gets some closure with Arrietty before they leave.

  12. Maygaess says:

    i want to point out one thing from reading “Starting Points” by Miyazaki, that maybe some things are childish in his movies (the way the villains are depicted for example) he (i know he didnt direct this one but he still has influence) always wants to make movies that are directed at children so they can enjoy them.

    also, i wonder what movie will take 10/10 in production values if not one like this ;)

  13. gandalf8 says:

    This is another classic movie by the incredible Studio Ghibli. The setting is really meticulously designed and well thought out. For example the tea that Homily made. You can see the water droplets are big, and when she pours the tea into their cups, it isn’t like normally where the tea flows, but rather she’s pouring big droplets of tea into the cups. Now that’s attention to detail.

    The first part of the movie, which focused on portraying the way of life of Arrietty and her family, was the best part imo. They managed to show how they could live among us humans realistically. Their principle to only “borrow” things that humans won’t miss easily, how they adapted human made things for their own usage, and they way they made use of their surroundings to make their secret paths were very interesting and insightful to watch.

    Unfortunately, the conflict that they made seemed a bit too cheesy and forced. I do get that this is a movie primarily aimed at children so a simple plot is the best way, but I wish that it wasn’t so simplistic and unoriginal. Haru is also a rather lame “villain” that could have been better portrayed than she currently is. While all that talk when Arrietty first met Shou, about all those extinct species seemed very out of place and I suspect is just Ghibli’s usual insert of their environmentalist message.

    Overall, it was a good watch. Although it won’t rank as one of Ghibli’s best, it is way better than a lot of Western animated movies. I’ll definitely recommend this to my siblings.

  14. anon says:

    I was really disappointed – the backgrounds were beautiful and the details superb, but the characters were so dull and lifeless, and all the excitement and danger was removed from the plot. I loved the books as a child and they were made into a wonderful BBC TV series, with great actors including Ian Holm (Bilbo from LOTR!).

    I know Japanese children might be more obedient than British children, but surely they are still naughty sometimes, and people still speak to each other! Here the rebellious Arrietty becomes very bland and there’s no humorous dialogue, like a real family might have.

    As others have pointed out, the token Ghibli environmental bit was really shoehorned in and didn’t fit the themes of the story, but at least it was brief.

    I didn’t expect this to be much like the books, but hoped it would at least be fun!

  15. ROl says:

    I saw the movie today. The backgrounds and were very detailed but the plot can be arranged in a better way specially the end. I haven’t red the books but I would have ended the movie in another way. At least for me there were a lot of questions of what happens to the boy, if he survived the surgery about if arriety found a new home etc etc. Well this is just my opinion.

  16. gloomy says:

    I had real issues with the young boy character. He didn’t really have much going for him, all he seemed to do was open up about his problems for no apparent reason.
    His situation was already being effectively communicated without these awkward conversations. You can’t create empathy for a character by giving them a hard life, you actually need to make them interesting and engaging.
    It ended up feeling all a little shallow for me. He was also a bit horrible at times, wasn’t sure if i was meant to like him or hate him.

  17. llj says:

    Actually I believe the book did have some fairly hammy environmentalist themes as well, for those who are blaming it ALL on Ghibli. Of course, that’s maybe why they chose this book to adapt.

  18. Catherine Butler says:

    Yes, the conversation about the number of human beans vs. the number of borrowers in the world was lifted pretty much straight from the book, so it wasn’t an insert.

  19. aoi says:

    Arriety’s lifestyle was indeed the best part of the movie. The detail in how she lives day-to-day is utterly charming.
    I agree that the ‘villain’ was indeed pathetic, but i think the biggest problem was time. While I found no problem with the pacing, I would love for extra time to be added to the movie, dedicated to further fleshing out Sho/the other human residents.
    All in all, i loved the movie. :)

  20. Anca says:

    You’re seeing the old woman too much as the ‘villain’ when she isn’t: her actions might count as ‘villainous’ to us observers, but to her what she did what no different to us capturing insects or mice in jars, or taking down a bird nest to look at the chicks. I really liked the way she was so childish and so, well, grandmother-y in a way you rarely see in fiction. Remember when she called them little thieves? Remember the tone of her voice, her expression? It wasn’t hateful or angry. Fictional old women are always for some reason perfect, when real old people are more like her.

    And her calling the exterminators, well, that might have been a bit… but it’s still very understandable. An old woman’s active imagination, worries, exaggeration – she probably thought the walls were full of them. And remember that she saw them about the same as having a colony of mice living in the walls. I’d probably act exactly like Shou if we found mice in our house, and my grandma would fill the cellar with mouse traps and rat poison.

    There wasn’t some epic plot, there was no need for a strong, interesting ‘villain’. All the events of the movie had internal logic – Haru discovered the Borrowers because Shou was found their house and putt the dollhouse kitchen in there, because even he saw them as some sort of pets instead of people. This amounted to enough conflict to tell interesting story without feeling forced at all, without getting the impression that a plot, something someone is writing, is happening.

    Miyazaki still wrote the script. He wouldn’t have written an evil old woman out to get revenge on some little people for stealing sugar cubes.

    • signorRossi says:

      Anca got it completely right with her obeservations.
      This movie seemed just perfect to me and I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would, it’s one of my top fav Ghibli movies now.

  21. Starss says:

    Amazing movie! Especially loved the attention to detail and in particular the little droplets of water the Borrowers lived on. Three droplets of tea in a cup, they oozed out of the teacup and didn’t stream as our larger volumes of water do and even wringing out a towel or picking up a spilt kettle was accompanied with a water drop sound.

    Also enjoyed the animation on Sho where his slow movement (because of his heart problems or because of his size?) was animated very smoothly.

    It was unusually quiet with a lot less dialogue than even a typical iyashikei slice of life would have but all I really wanted to do was gawp at the meticulously detailed lifestyle of the Borrowers.

Leave a Reply


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  • Bam
    (Sunday, Nov 29. 2015 09:50 PM)
    @Aidan: well interestingly in the pilot “what doth life?” causes a file not found error, so it fitted perfectly.
  • AidanAK47
    (Sunday, Nov 29. 2015 04:24 PM)
    @Bam, Nope. Never seen Xavier.
  • Bam
    (Sunday, Nov 29. 2015 03:25 AM)
  • Bam
    (Saturday, Nov 28. 2015 10:22 PM)
    @Aidan: it does seem like you’ve actually seen Xavier, in which case I’m impressed. Didn’t think you had it in you.
  • Bam
    (Saturday, Nov 28. 2015 09:35 PM)
    Speaking of errors, can anybody else open Evil Genius Scanlations page? I keep getting a gateway error. I know there should be a new Berserk on there but some force is keeping it from me. This is messed up.
  • AidanAK47
    (Saturday, Nov 28. 2015 05:38 PM)
    @Bam, Easy. 404 not found
  • Bam
    (Saturday, Nov 28. 2015 05:45 AM)
    It takes a true magnificence to propose such a grand question as: What dot life?!
  • Bam
    (Saturday, Nov 28. 2015 05:42 AM)
    @Kaiser: the show does vary in quality, but for the first season they generally crank up the insanity with every episode until a very remarkable season finale where Xavier faces his worst enemy.
  • Kaiser Eoghan
    (Saturday, Nov 28. 2015 05:40 AM)
    @Bam: Oh in symphogears case, I certainly laughed but I wasn’t supposed to.
  • Kaiser Eoghan
    (Saturday, Nov 28. 2015 05:39 AM)
    @Bam: While it didn’t always work, that first episode of renegade angel was amusing, I particularly liked the part where he went on about Aids being invented.

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