Any Studio Ghibli release is cause for celebration, what separates them from any other popular animation studios (other than geography) is that you’re never quite sure what to expect. The worlds they create are incredibly inventive, always beautiful, and filled with interesting characters that will surprise and delight in many different ways. The magic of Studio Ghibli is their ability to think like children, and create films that feel like pure, unpredictable and brilliant imagination.
For ‘Arrietty’, Studio Ghibli have taken inspiration from Mary Norton’s classic children’s book ‘The Borrowers’. Refreshingly, it feels like a vaguely faithful adaptation of the material, especially in comparison to the last time this story reached the big screen.
Arrietty is the youngest member of a family of ‘borrowers’ – tiny people who spend their lives under the floorboards in the houses of the much larger – and feared – ‘human bean’ population. As Arrietty starts to explore the world she secretly lives in, she is accidently seen by a boy named Sho. An unlikely friendship awkwardly grows, which eventually changes the lives of all involved.
This is a much smaller film than some previous works from the studio, and that may surprise (or even disappoint) some. This film isn’t trying to be an epic tale in the style of ‘Spirited Away’, and even last year’s ‘Ponyo’ has a much grander feel than anything in this film. However, instead we have something equally entertaining. Legendary director, animator and storyteller Hayao Miyazaki planned out the story and supervised production, and it shows. The pace of the narrative has been handled lovingly, taking its time to tell the story. This allows for the simplicity, beauty and the fantasy to shine through.
Visually, of course it looks incredible. The intricately detailed backgrounds would be worth watching alone, even without any plot. The studio’s trademark understanding of the power of colour is as evident as ever, with every frame painted by some of the greatest artists in all of animation history. Absolutely nothing has been rushed. Many interesting uses of scale are used to remind us just how the borrowers must live. Recognizable items have been utilised to create all manner of everyday objects in miniature, and the results are both inventive and beautiful to look at. More reminders of scale, such as the way water moves when you’re a few inches tall, or how insects take on a different character when they’re the size of pets, just exhibit the animators’ skills perfectly. This world has consistency, and reality to it, that will completely sell the relationships of characters (both big and small) that take place within the film.
In a year full of action based animated features, Arrietty is refreshing as every single element supports the story it is trying to tell. This is classic animation, not just in the technical sense, but also in that it focuses on telling a story that’s worth watching, and that is a rare thing indeed.
Andrew Leeke works as Front of House at Phoenix Square, where he is also a Production Assistant, and provides animation workshops for kids. He is also a freelance animator and visual effects artist. Despite being 27, he still spends all of his pocket money on toys.