Introducing the Computer did a lot to change animation. Suddenly, when you have a device that can automate so much of the animation process, it’s easy to add extra pieces to the whole. It has allowed animation studios like Dreamworks, Pixar and Blue Sky to make each frame of their films more kinetic, with bounces and booms that take the picture all ove the place.
This is all a good thing, and it adds to the potential of the medium. But the occasional hand-drawn feature, especially one like The Secret World of Arietty, can remind us that a busier film is not necessarily a better picture.
Arietty is based on Mary Norton’s book The Borrowers (already adapted into a film), about a family bite-size humans that stand no taller than a few inches, living between the walls and underneath the floors of a normally-sized family’s home. The biggest rule for the little people, called Borrowers, is to remain unseen by normal humans, called Beans – otherwise they risk the wrath of their curiosity. Of course, you can’t set up the most important rule in a movie without breaking it, and just that happens when 14-year-old borrower Arietty meets a similarly-aged bean, Shawn.
Arietty’s parents (voiced relatively calmly by real-life couple Will Arnett and Amy Poehler) immediately worry what the beans will do to their miniature tenants, and begin planning a move to a safer, more discreet home.
Arietty is from the Japanese Studio Ghibli, home to animation maestro Hayao Miyazaki. This film wasn’t directed by Miyazaki, but he did cowrite the screenplay, and fans of his will see a link to some of his work. Arietty, directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, hosts a similarity to simpler films of Miyazaki’s, like My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service.
The story is simple, and the plot points are few, but Arietty is never boring. Instead, its strength is a resounding calm that is inviting without being lightweight. Even the exciting moments of the film – like when a house cat spits open its enormous maw at a Borrower – are more curios than heart-beaters. It makes for soothing film that is hard not to click into.
Maybe your kids will prefer the frenzy of Rio, where dozens of birds fly within a single frame while singing. But just as likely, they might like to follow Arietty climb around a massive home looking for a Sugarcube. The Secret World of Arietty is not the most memorable movie, but it’s a completely delightful way to spend ninety minutes.