Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Secret is Out

Four Stars

Just when you thought you couldn’t stand another 3-D, talking animal fest or more super heroes, here comes Studio Ghibli with another beautifully done film about kids in an magical situation both adults and kids can enjoy. This is the biggest U.S. release a Studio Ghibli film has received. Based on the classic children’s novel "The Borrowers" by Mary Norton, “The Secret World of Arrietty,” is the story of a tween girl named Arrietty (Bridget Mendler) who happens to be a borrower. Borrowers, as she explains, are small people who take things from humans that they won’t miss. On her first trip with her father to borrow things with her father Pod (Will Arnett) she is seen by the new boy in the house Shawn (David Henry). Shawn is enchanted by the little people who live in the house and remembers the stories his mother told him. She blushes the first time she sees him, and her father warns her not to be seen by him again. Her mother (Amy Pohler) constantly worries about the humans and the cat that might eat them. They live under the floorboards of the house, and try to be as quiet as possible.

In the world of Studio Ghibli, little people living under the floorboards seem almost normal. However, they live in a secret world, with stuff they’ve collected. Arrietty is fourteen and can be a bit moody. However, one of the charms of Studio Ghibili, is that their characters are often two things. One is that they are realistic kids. The other is the hero’s of Studio Ghibili are often heroines. Girls rule in Miyazaki’s world, and they aren’t princesses. Arrietty, like many of the girls before her in Miyazaki films like “Spirited Away”, “Kiki’s Delivery Service” and “Ponyo” is a strong female. Pixar was perhaps influenced by Studio Ghibli because they are releasing their first female character driven movie this year titled “Brave”. Girls in the world of Studio Ghibli are brave or learn to be brave.

With so little borrowers left, she discovers she needs to be strong for her family. She also needs to be strong for her friend Shawn. Shawn is going for a heart operation. That’s why he is at this house in the country so he can have some peace and quiet as to not excite him. There is some talk of death in this film, but it’s done in a way that allows you to talk to your kids about the issues this film raises.

No 3-D for Studio Ghibli. The film is rendered in beautiful 2-D animation, much of it hand-drawn. The film was directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, a fellow animator at Studio Ghibli. The script was written by Hayao Miyazaki based on the beloved children’s novel by Mary Nortion. A lot of people I suggest anime to often say to me they could do without it fearing that’s all flashy robots and Pokemon. What they fail to understand is that anime can be great art. The films of Studio Ghibli, and often anime series as well, are beautiful art that are well written and have great character development. Anime is often the animation adults can connect to because it does take time to be quiet and have scenes where characters just talk to each other in a thoughtful manner. The scene where Arrietty and Shawn talk about death is a perfect example.

Shawn lies in the grass, in a beautifully animated landscape with lush colors, which is unsurprising to those who know Miyazaki’s work. He is often reading a book or looking up into the sky. However, we also see the pain he is in. Scenes where Shawn is running, he puts his hand on his chest because of his bad heart. The relationship between Shawn and Arrietty is charming, and they like each other quite a bit. Like real kids their age. Miyazaki’s work often captures both the gentle world of childhood and the fears children honestly have like abandonment, death, romance, growing up and the unknown. Kids often have to grow up in Miyazaki’s world, whether they are of magical origin or just get caught up in a magical situation. However, Miyazaki balances both the magic and the reality of growing up in his films beautifully. You could take your kids to see “Journey 2”, “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace”, or some 3-D visual fest. However, if you have young kids, take them to see this instead. Heck, if you have older kids take them to see this too. Chances are your family will be enchanted by simplicity and magic.

A note to the paying parent: 3-D glasses costs extra. Save yourself some money. The film is rated G and runs only 95 minutes. This choice will save you time and money. With the void left by Harry Potter, families need some kind of magic at the theaters they can enjoy together. This movie will fit the bill.

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