BY RICK JACKSON
Based on Mary Norton's award-winning book, The Borrowers, The Secret World Of Arrieta casts a magic spell on the individual. From a simple story about the tolerance of others, together with the imagination of director Hiromasa Konebayashi and screenwriters Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle) and Keiko Nina comes one of the best animated films of this, or any, year. (Note: There were two live action adaptations made by two British directors: Peter Hewitt in1997 and Tom Harper in 2011.)
Right away, you are immediately swept up by the animation department's zest for recreating Norton's child-like universe and the Clock Family who are the borrowers. Arietty is the young girl who is being taught by her father to watch out for herself. If she is seen by humans it will mean something bad. Without resorting to violence of any kind, you can appreciate more the incredible dramatic overtones reminiscent of Coraline (2009).
As the voice of Arietty in the U.S. version, Brigitte Mendler is perfectly cast. The animation allows her to live and breathe like any fictional children's character and as you watch her courageous performance in a role that matches her athletic prowess, you are quickly enamoured by what she does.
Quite different from the live action of, say, Pan's Labyrinth, the secret world is how Arietty learns about the humans and how they are not as dangerous as she has been led to believe and how previous generations of borrowers have learned to fear them.
It is interesting how the little people or borrowers interfere systemically with the humans or tall people out of necessity and not until Shawn (the voice of David Henrie), a boy who is about to have heart surgery, wants to get to know Arietty does the story take shape in a wonderful and consuming tale about respect for others and you are rewarded by sharing in the moral intricacies relevant to both worlds. Life, by film's end, becomes a lesson in humanity that is told in a powerful and poignant fashion.
The music of French composer Cecile Corbel rivals the music score by another French composer, Bruno Coulais in Coraline as it indelibly captures each nuance and child-like wonder with equal fervor and excitement which is further complemented by the well-timed pacing of the comedic and dramatic elements.
The rest of the voice cast features Carol Burnett as Hara, the villain in a role that, on the surface, is predictable but, remember, this is Disney. Will Arnett and Amy Poehler voice Arietty's Pod and Homily respectively, and their scenes add a well tempered reality in supplying a sense of responsibility as the older generation of borrowers and to underscore the story's message which becomes symbolically clearer by film's end.
Be prepared to enjoy every spell-binding minute of an unforgettable animated motion picture. You won't be disappointed. I loved it!
It is rated G, which means everyone can see it.
April 14, 2012
Copyright Rick Jackson 2012