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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Secret World of Arrietty Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson
Walt Disney Studios and the legendary Studio Ghibli (Ponyo & Spirited Away) proudly opened the doors to The Secret World of Arrietty on Blu-ray Combo Pack and DVD, on May 22, 2012.  Based on the acclaimed children’s book series “The Borrowers,” by Mary Norton, The Secret World of Arrietty is an imaginative tale of “little people” living furtively among us, and the unlikely friendship that forms when their hidden world is discovered. The heartwarming family adventure features beautiful, stylized animation and timeless themes of friendship, courage and determination.  This visually stunning animated masterpiece stars an illustrious voice cast that includes Will Arnett, Amy Poehler, Bridgit Mendler, Moises Arias, David Henrie and the iconic and much beloved Carol Burnett.


Film (4 out of 5 stars) 

Based on Mary Norton’s celebrated 1952 novel “The Borrowers,” which has been adapted many times,  The Secret World of Arrietty is the latest adaptation to tell the story of a group of little people and their interaction with a much larger world.  This version comes courtesy of Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki who may not have directed this movie, but he planned and wrote the screenplay for it and his hand-prints are all over it.  His handpicked director, Hiromasa Yonebayashi has carefully brought Miyazaki’s vision to life so well that Miyazaki might as well have directed it himself.
Arrietty tells the tale of a family of incredibly small people who “borrow” things that human beings (or beans as the borrowers call them) won’t notice missing.  The film’s main focus is on a fourteen year old girl named Arrietty and her mother and father who live hidden away under the floorboards in a standard sized humans house.  For these little people, to survive in a larger and a much dangerous world, they need to venture out and risk getting caught by humans or getting eaten by an animal.
The humans in question include a newly arrived young boy named Shawn who has come to the house because he needs to have a stress-free life while he waits for a heart operation and also because he has absentee parents. When Shawn arrives at the house he notices a cat searching a bush for something and he sees what looks to be a small person but thinks it was just his imagination which is lucky for Arrietty who escaped both Shawn and the cat. She had been brazenly out gathering items for the family in broad daylight and taking chances her parents would not approve of.  In fact, she hadn’t even made her official first mission as a “borrower” at that point because her parents were too worried what might happen.
Arrietty does finally get her chance to go out to do some borrowing along with her father and he tries to show her the tools and tricks of the trade.  Their mission is to get a single cube of sugar which will last the family months, but there’s a lot of danger involved in every such mission.  When Shawn discovers Arrietty again during their escape, he tries to keep her calm and to be friendly to her, but her father makes her retreat without making contact.  When Shawn leaves a sugar cube out for Arrietty to discover, she believes that he is sincere in his desire to be friends, but her parents won’t allow it.  As her father Pod says, “many borrowers have lost their lives thinking the same.”  With perils that include animals such as cats and crows and humans who can destroy them even without intending to, these borrowers have a difficult and dangerous life which is complicated when Shawn and Arrietty become friends.
When this film was released in Japan it as known as The Borrower Arrietty, and it ended up becoming the top-grossing there in 2010, so Disney made sure to give it a shot here by adapting the script for western audiences. With this new script by Karey Kirkpatrick and rethought by Gary Rydstrom, they’ve re-imaged it but they’ve kept the heart and soul that made it successful originally.  I was struck by how meditative and mellow the movie was as compared to the usual frenetic animated movies that originate here that are full of sound and fury.  The Secret World of Arriettyhas a contemplative feeling throughout it that works really well with a story like this.
The movie’s vocal cast has also been changed to better suit the market it’s being played.  In the U.K., Mark Strong, Saoirse Ronan, and Phyllida Law are part of the cast while here in America, we have Will Arnett, Amy Poehler, Carol Burnett, and a pair of Disney television stars – Bridget Mendler and David Henrie.  Although the original Japanese track is here, I wish they had offered multiple audio tracks on the Blu-ray so we could hear the other versions.  The American cast does a nice job in any case and Carol Burnett in particular was an inspired choice to play the crazy and misguided housekeeper Haru.  She takes the most unlikable character in the movie and makes her motives understood and even slightly deserving of pity, even when she does some pretty despicable things.  This is the first Studio Ghibli film that I’ve seen and after watching this one, I’m looking forward to seeing some more.

Video (5 out of 5 stars) 

As a general rule, Disney is one of the most consistently impressive studios when it comes to their Blu-ray video and audio quality.  It’s nice to see that even movies that they release that didn’t originate from the studio get the same kind of love and care as their own.  This 1080p (1.85:1) transfer is perfection itself, with absolutely no flaws or digital defects of any kind.  Colors are vibrant in all of their multi-hued intensity and this movie almost seems like a water-colored painting that we’ve stepped into.  Black levels are pitch black and wonderfully inky throughout an contrast is equally impressive and spot on.  This pristine transfer just enhances an already gorgeous film and I can’t say enough good things about it.

Audio (5 out of 5 stars) 

The Secret World of Arrietty’s DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is also superb as is the original Japanese track.  Dialogue is delivered by the front channels and it’s crystal clear and intelligible for both versions.  The rear channels offer a very nice ambiance that captures the smallest details which adds up to a very immersive experience.  The sounds of nature are recreated all around the viewer and the cross channel directionality is impressive.  The LFE output doesn’t really make itself known until late in the movie when Shawn rips the borrowers house apart in a misguided attempt to help them.   C├ęcile Corbel’s score is nicely balanced with the rest of the sound mix and all of them combine to great effect.  This is an excellent mix no matter which version you choose.

Extras (2 out of 5 stars) 

This is the one area that the disc is lacking.  There really isn’t much here other than the original Japanese storyboards which are only going to be a draw for a limited audience.  They are all in high definition.
  • Original Japanese Storyboards – In the most comprehensive extra on the disc, the entire film in storyboard format is shown.  It’s a shame that they didn’t offer a way to compare it to the final version, but fans of Studio Ghibli will still be pleased.
  • Music Videos – Two videos are included: Cecile Corbel’s “Arrietty’s Song” and Bridgit Mendler’s “Summertime.”
  • The Making of “Summertime” – If you liked the music video then you might enjoy a look behind the scenes at the making of the music video.
  • Trailers

Summary (4 out of 5 stars) 

The Secret World of Arrietty is a beautiful movie to watch and it offers some very impressive animation and even more importantly, an alternative to the usual frenetic kind of animated movies that are so popular today.  That’s not to say that it’s boring, but it is contemplative in its execution and in its message.  This Blu-ray looks and sounds amazing and I highly recommend it even if the extras are lacking.
Order your copy today!

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