Arrietty (2011)

Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Cast: Mirai Shida, Ryùnosuke Kamiki, Shinobu Ohtake, Keiko Takeshita, Tatsuya Fujiwara, Tomokazu Miura, Kirin Kiki

If you’re looking for animation that harks back to a golden age, when it was simple, yet beautiful…when, instead of spending millions of dollars to make a CGI wise cracking monkey, passionate artists and animators breathed life into an everyday world to make it fantastical…you can not even think to exclude Studio Ghibli.

The Plot:
Shò is a young boy who has come to spend some time living with his grandmother in the countryside. Suffering from a serious illness, it is believed that the peace and quiet will be beneficial to him. During his stay, he encounters the tiny Arriety. At only a few inches tall, Arrietty is a borrower who lives with her family, and who believes they are the last of a dying breed. Despite her family’s insistence against being seen by human ‘beans’, Arrietty finds herself befriending Shò…

To say that all CGI animated films are bad is simply untrue. Incredible films have been released, and continue to be released, which boggle the mind with incredibly beautiful aesthetics and genuinely touching stories. Recent examples which come to mind would be Disney’s latest release Tangled and the emotional bombshell that was Toy Story 3. However, these films are so very often accompanied by a slew of fiercely mediocre films of the same aesthetic. Open Season? Alpha and Omega? Chicken Little? All of these films could be argued to be watchable, maybe even enjoyable, but they are also very much forgettable.

For this reason, because it seems so much easier to release a CGI animated film, it comes as  a relief to see that hand drawn animation is not yet dead. And they can still pack quite a punch. Arrietty is very much a visual film, in that the art direction is truly inspired and creative. Studio Ghibli films have been noted for creating incredible worlds of fantasy (Spirited Away), but it is particularly impressive how they manage to impose these fantastical worlds into the everyday, such as seen in My Neighbour Totoro.

Arrietty does this particularly well, with a number of tricks up its proverbial sleeve. Rather than the 1997 film adaptation of The Borrowers, which puts a great deal of focus on a tiny family in the real world, Arrietty focuses on the family living in, what they see as, a much much bigger world, with gigantic occupants living above the floorboards. This may sound a lot like rephrasing the same sentence twice, but when you watch Arrietty, you will understand. Everything is from a tiny perspective, and the attention to detail is meticulous. Things like the way liquids behave are particularly impressive. A cup of tea for the tiny family consists of but a few drops, portrayed as big sticky globules on close examination. Also, the ‘beans’ kitchen isn’t a kitchen with tiny people in it. It is a monstrous cave, where the slightest breeze sounds like a roaring wind. Encounters with rats and crows are life threatening. Everything is seen from the perspective of a borrower.

The film does an excellent job of creating this fantasy world within a world, and it is a joy to simply bask in its beauty. Very little appears to happen, but you are unlikely to care when the film itself is so charming. It’s message is clear, if not a little bit contrived. Arrietty and her family fear that they may be a dying species, and the human ‘beans’ don’t appear to be doing anything to help the unfortunate situation. For the most part, this isn’t a defiant cry out for the audience to recycle or plant a rainforest in their back garden. Instead it’s a calm, and a little sad, statement of fact. However there is one scene which stands out as being a little forced in an attempt to really hammer its message home.

The film is carried well by its capable cast…

(…At this point I realise I should probably point out that I saw the English version of this film, and can only comment on the voice acting in that version.)

Mark Strong does particularly well as the gravelly voiced Pod, and Saoirse Ronan fits into Arrietty’s shoes beautifully. Tom Holland, who does the voice of Shò, seems to struggle a bit… I’m not going to dance around it, he sounds a little pervy. I don’t know what it is, maybe it’s the way he says Arriety’s name with a bit of a slur, or the particular emphasis he puts on the word ‘beautiful,’ but it just doesn’t seem to gel. It’s not a major issue, but it does jar a little bit.


Arrietty is a film about beauty in the natural world. There is an element of fantasy, clearly, but it is very different from the fantasy of, say, Pom Poko or even My Neighbour Totoro. In these cases, there is a strong suggestion of movement and actions. The world of Arrietty, on the other hand, is simply a quiet meditation. With so little happening on-screen, it may not be as memorable as the other Studio Ghibli classics. However, it is a joy to find a film with the confidence to create a world such as this, content to simply exist before you, contemplating long grass and whispering streams.

Awful Rating: 8/10

“Human ‘Beans’ are dangerous. If we’re seen, we have to leave…” – Arrietty

Shamelessly Awful Facts:

  • I briefly considered that Shò’s voice sounding so pervy was intentional, and he did so because he was supposed to appear as if he had something on his mind. I shared this thought with my fellow cinema goer. She agreed that he had something on his mind throughout the film, and that something was: “If you were just a few feet taller…ohhh yeah”
  • The salsa dip is nicer than the nacho cheese in Cineworld. I add this in here only because it was discovered during the course of the film and should be noted by nacho lovers everywhere.
Published in: on August 11, 2011 at 2:10 am  Leave a Comment  
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