Anime Film Review: The Secret World of Arrietty

The Secret World of Arrietty, which is known as The Borrower Arrietty in Japan, is an anime film directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi; it is based on The Borrowers by Mary Norton. The film was released to Japanese theaters on July 17, 2010, and it became the highest grossing Japanese film at the Japanese box office for the year 2010. The Secret World of Arrietty also won the Animation of the Year Award at the 34th Japan Academy Prize award ceremony. Walt Disney Pictures produced a dub, which was released to North American theaters on February 17, 2012. The company released the film as a Blu-ray/DVD combo and as a standalone DVD on May 22, 2012

The Secret World of Arrietty
Directed by: Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Written by: Hayao Miyazaki and Keiko Niwa
Starring: Mirai Shida, Ryunosuke Kamiki, Shinobu Otake, Keiko Takeshita, Tatsuya Fujiwara, Tomokazu Miura, and Kirin Kiki
Run Time: 95 minutes
Rated: G

In the film, a boy named Sho spends time at his mother’s childhood home with his great aunt and her maid while waiting to go into surgery for a heart condition; he is there so he can get some rest before the surgery. When he first arrives, he catches a glimpse of Arrietty, one of the “little people” living underneath his mother’s childhood home; however, Arrietty does not realize that she was seen.

That night, Arrietty’s father takes her out on her first “borrowing” mission to “borrow” some sugar and tissue from the house. When they go into the room Sho is staying in to get the tissue, Arrietty is spotted by Sho. Sho asks her to stay, but Arrietty and her father beat a hasty retreat. Arrietty’s father stresses to her that if humans detect their presence that the family will be forced to move.

Arrietty sneaks out to try to talk to Sho without being seen, and asks Sho to leave her and her family alone. Unfortunately, a crow sees her by the window and tries to get her. Sho saves Arrietty, and he must now try to hide her existence from his great aunt and Haru (the maid). Haru believes that the little people do indeed live under the house, and she is determined to find them. Arrietty’s parents realize that they have indeed been spotted, and they decide that they must move. The rest of the film follows what happens when Arrietty’s family tries to move out before being detected by any other humans.

When I watched this film, it was with the Japanese audio with English subtitles, so I can only truly comment on the Japanese version of the film. Personally, I liked it. The animation was gorgeous; some of the backgrounds, such as the dollhouse, were very intricate and detailed. Also, I thought the storytelling was well-paced for a 95-minute film. With the type of story being told, there was the potential for it feel as if it was dragging, but it never did. Not only does the story appeal to children, but it has an appeal for adults. Very young children and preschoolers may not have the attention span for The Secret World of Arrietty, but I think school-age children should be able to enjoy the film without getting too squirmy or fidgety.

When it comes to the DVD release of the film, there were only two bonus features included on it, and they both focus exclusively on Bridgit Mendler, the English dub voice for the character of Arrietty. Personally, I can only truly recommend these bonus features to viewers who are fans of Bridgit Mendler. I was rather disappointed by this, because Disney’s releases for the other Studio Ghibli films had featurettes that focused on more than one of the dub actors, as well as the original Japanese storyboards; some of the releases also included “The World of Ghibli.” Unfortunately for The Secret World of Arrietty, it felt more like Disney was treating the film as a vehicle to promote Bridgit Mendler instead of actually believing in the film and promoting it as its own entity.

The first is the video for the song “Summertime,” which is a song that Mendler wrote before being cast as Arrietty. The video tries to make it look like Bridgit Mendler is as small as one of the Borrowers, but unfortunately, the green screen effects were not very well done; the green screen effects are just too obvious and Mendler does not really seem to blend in with the background very convincingly. As for the song itself, it really has nothing to do with the film at all, and I’m sorry to say that it’s not a well-written song. I didn’t care for Mendler’s voice when I heard her sing the theme song for Good Luck Charlie, and the song “Summertime” does nothing to improve my opinion of Mendler’s singing abilities. Because the song is focusing on a summer relationship, the footage that’s used from Arrietty in the video almost gives the impression that a romantic interest exists between Arrietty and Sho, when none actually exists in the film.

The second feature is a two-minute documentary about the making of the “Summertime” video, which also includes some clips from the English dub of the film. The clips focus on Sho, so I could hear some of David Henrie’s performance. From what I heard, his delivery sounded flat, and he also sounds too old for the role.

When it comes to the Blu-ray release of the film, I noticed a significant difference between it and the DVD copy that I had watched before purchasing the Blu-ray release. The image was noticeably sharper, and the audio quality was improved.

According to the box, the main feature on the Blu-ray is 1080p High Definition with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The DVD Widescreen (1:81:1) is enhanced for a 16×9 television. The audio for the film on the Blu-ray disc is in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio (48 kHz/24-bit), French 5.1 Dolby Digital, and Japanese 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio Original Production Audio. The audio on the DVD includes English and French 5.1 Dolby Digital and Japanese 5.1 Dolby Digital Original Production Audio. Subtitles are available in English ESL, English SDH and French. Unfortunately, no specs are provided for the bonus features.

The Blu-ray actually contains more bonus content than the DVD pressing did. The first bonus feature is the Original Japanese Storyboards, which is essentially a storyboard version of the film. While I don’t understand the appeal of watching the storyboard version of a film, at least it’s actually a bonus feature on the Blu-ray that doesn’t focus on Bridgit Mendler.

Next is “Trailers & TV Spots,” which is about 14 minutes in length and includes 28 spots that run in a continuous piece. This feature felt rather thrown together, because there didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason as to the order the spots were put in. Also, some of the spots were so similar that it felt like some of them were used more than once for this feature.
Next is the music video for “Arreitty’s Song” by Cecile Corbel. Of the bonus features included on the Blu-ray, I thought this one was the best one. The two bonus features from the DVD pressing are also included: the music video for Bridgit Mendler’s “Summertime” and the making of documentary for Bridgit Mendler’s video.

If you enjoy The Secret World of Arrietty and don’t already own a copy in your home video collection, then you should purchase a copy of the film. If you have the capability to watch Blu-ray Discs, then I would really recommend purchasing the Blu-ray/DVD combo pressing over the DVD release.

I wrote this review after watching a copy of The Secret World of Arrietty Blu-ray/DVD combo release that my husband and I purchased.

Additional reviews of Studio Ghibli films:

One comment

  1. Mabel Sterritt · October 9, 2013

    I think Disney is really slacking with their Ghibli dubs! Instead of finding actors that actually fit the roles, they try to cram in as many celebrities and B-list Disney Channel stars as possible to promote the film. I saw Arrietty with both Japanese and English audio, and the English was just so… meh compared to the Japanese audio. It’s a great movie, but I definitely think Disney needs to step up their dubbing game!

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