When it comes to animated feature films, it’s fair to say that Japanese production company Studio Ghibli is one of the more prominent and well respected in contemporary cinema, consistently producing a high quality level of film across the past twenty years.
Therefore, when understanding that upcoming release Arrietty was a Studio Ghibli production, I knew that I was guaranteed, at the very least, an interesting and poignant feature, and I wasn’t disappointed.
It’s an adaptation of the famous story of The Borrowers, a tale of little people who live secretly amongst human inhabitants, making a home and living off borrowed items.
The film follows the 14-year-old borrower Arrietty (Saoirse Ronan), along with the other members of the Clock family, consisting of father Pod (Mark Strong) and mother Homily (Olivia Colman).
Despite the Clock family’s anonymity, they are spotted by human child Sho (Tom Holland), who seeks to protect the borrowers, and is highly curious as to how they live their lives. Sho, who has a pending heart operation, is being looked after by his nanny Haru, voiced by the terrific Geraldine McEwan, a character more interested in disposing of the little people, as she takes a dislike to the nature of how the Clock family get by.
Despite being an enjoyable feature, when comparing to previous Studio Ghibli titles, Arrietty is certainly lacking in the uniqueness and inimitability that comes with their usual productions. Films such as Porco Rosso and Spirited Away have a distinctive Japanese aspect to them, where you know instantly where it’s from and who it is by.
But Arrietty is slightly too Westernised and lacking in its Japanese identity and quirkiness that previous Studio Ghibli films pride themselves in. This is apparent in the fact that first and foremost the lead characters of the Clock family are all Caucasian. Being dubbed in English is a standard procedure that comes with giving the film an international audience and reputation, but rarely do we see English/American characters.
Arrietty is, however, directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, with his first directing role. This could well be a reason as to why the film wasn’t as unique as previous titles, which generally are directed by Hayao Miyazaki, a revolutionary director, behind the majority of Studio Ghibli’s finest productions.
So perhaps it is unfair to compare to previous titles and one should just take the film for what it is – simply judging it as a sole feature film. And when doing so you can certainly find some positive aspects.
The primary story is engaging, and it’s magical and fantastical edge has made it one of the most popular children’s fantasy tales of all time, and the film did the story justice. The setting was beautifully placed, and with a magical story, where better a place to set it than a Japanese house and garden.
It was almost picturesque, and its backdrop greatly resembles the work of French artist Monet and paintings such as the Japanese Bridge, using its striking setting to add to the exquisite and magical story.
However, for me the one great downfall is its cheesiness. I am aware of the fact it is a children’s film so perhaps it’s all part of the same package, but towards the end of the feature it did become quite tacky in parts and there were a few moments where a roll of the eyes were rather necessary.
But overall I enjoyed the film and its imagery and story combined made for a very enriching and transcendent feature, as Studio Ghibli keep up the competition with the likes of Disney and Pixar to prove that not all great animations have to come out of Hollywood.