Just forget the words and sing along

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Fishing in the Discount Bin - The Secret World of Arrietty

Welcome back to Fishing in the Discount Bin, my weekly evidence that I have too much time on my hands because I watch one of the many movies in my video library and blog about it.  This time out, we're chatting up the latest Sudio Ghibli release that got a major theatrical release in North America...The Secret World of Arrietty.  This entry is originally dated May 26, 2012.

Spent a day in the city today...I wasn't planning on picking up more DVDs, but I did manage to snatch up the latest Studio Ghibli release, The Secret World of Arrietty.

I saw this when it hit North American theatres back in February.  It was based on the classic British children's novel The Borrowers.  That's right, a Japanese adaptation of a British novel.  I don't know why, but I find that mix of culture intriguing.  Reminds me of a wisecrack by Susan Egan (Broadway superstar and voice of Meg in Disney's Hercules) that she made while dubbing the Studio Ghibli film Porco Rosso:  "I'm doing the English dub of a Japanese film set in Italy, so naturally I'm singing in French."

As we all know, Ghibli's most famous director is Hayao Miyazaki, and he's involved in this one, too.  He didn't direct it, but he did write the screenplay and he gets credit as "developing planner."  A few of Miyazaki's trademarks are visible, mainly in our feisty young female protagonist.  It's funny...I was reading an interview with the film's director, Hiromasa Yonebayashi, and he highlighted the advantages of working with your mentor.  He said that, whenever he'd run into a problem, he'd ask him self, "What would Miyazaki do?  Oh, wait!  He's just down the hall.  I'll go ask him." 

As with most Ghibli films, the English dub was largely supervised by Pixar personnel.  The English dub was done by veteran Pixar sound designer and director Gary Rydstrom.  I'm starting to think that being a Ghibli  geek is a requisite to work at Pixar.  I think I've already blogged the tale of how John Lassetter saved Ghibli for the world, but I'll blog it again.  Disney dubbed Princess Mononoke, but it didn't set the world on fire, so Disney started dragging their heels on dubbing and releasing Ghibli films.  Spirited Away came out, Lasseter saw it, and went to his bosses at Disney and said, "You are doing the world a great disservice by not dubbing this film and releasing it around the world."  And Disney said, "Fine.  If you want to see it dubbed so bad, you do it."  And Lasseter said, "You got it!"  And Spirited Away went on to win the Oscar for Best Animated Film.

So...the film.  The Borrowers are a secret race of tiny people who live in the walls of houses and they "borrow" things to survive.  As they outline, it's little things that they borrow...things that won't be missed.  Our protagonist is the 14-year old Arrietty, who is now old enough to start borrowing raids of her own.  But, on her first raid, she's seen by the human boy Shawn, and they begin to develop an unlikely friendship.  But, it's a friendship that could spell doom for Arrietty's family, as curiosity tends to get the better of humans and they try to ferret out the Borrowers. 

Watching this again, I'm surprised at what a melancholy film this is and how it wrestles with weighty issues.  Arrietty has never seen another Borrower in her life, and her parents do grapple with the fact that they just may be the last of their kind.  Shawn is a sickly child, and we learn that he suffers from a vague heart condition and is about to undergo a complicated operation to fix it ("It probably won't help," he pessimistically states) and he's very much accepted his mortality and that he's living on borrowed time.  Pretty heavy stuff for a kids film.

And the ending.  *SPOILER*  As Borrower custom dictates that they must move when they discover, the film ends with Arrietty and her family boarding a boat made of a teapot and sailing down the river, following rumors that there's a Borrower village deep in the woods.  That's the end.  No super happy Dreamworks dance party here.

Voice acting is really good.  Arrietty's parents are voiced by real life couple Will Arnett and Amy Poehler.  I am shocked by Arnett's voice work in this film.  I'm so used to seeing him in comedies, that to hear him all gruff and serious is stunning.  Apparently the Brits produced their own dub, and in the British version Arrietty's father was dubbed by Mark Strong (the evil Lord Blackwood in Sherlock Holmes; Sinestro in Green Lantern)...he probably did a good job, and I'd love to hear his take.  I'm not too crazy about Poehler, though.  Arrietty's mother is very shrill and hysterical...I don't know if that's the character or just Poehler's performance.  I should watch the original Japanese language track to compare.

Arrietty and Shawn are voiced by Disney kids Bridget Mendler and David Henrie, who actually played girlfriend and boyfriend on Wizards of Waverly Place.  The fact that I know that shows that I watch way too much Family Channel.  But they avail themselves pretty well.  It's ironic that the Disney sitcom style of acting is very cartoonish, but when they do voices in a cartoon, they do it very realistically.

And of course, the animation is gorgeous.  When I saw the first trailers for this online back in the fall, I got goosebumps.  Ghibli animation is still a treat for the eyes. That's what I make it a point to see Ghibli films in the theatre when one is coming to town. This is meant to be seen on a big screen.

But  yeah.  It's pretty good, and decidedly different. 

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