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Review of the The Secret World of Arrietty, by Jordon Gasca

by Jordon Gasca, Contributing Writer

Secret World Poster Sean is a boy facing many difficulties in his young life. The boy has a serious heart condition that will require surgery, though he considers it pointless, thinking there will be a slim chance he’ll survive. His Aunt Jessica offers to have him stay at her house to rest before the surgery.  His parents are both workaholics and going through a divorce; Sean will have to face his surgery alone.  These life changing events are difficult and discouraging for him.  On the day Sean arrives at the house, he notices that the house cat, Niya, glares at a bush and growls at it as though it were alive.  Sean dismisses this bizarre happening, thinking the cat is senile.  However, one night after waking up from his sleep, he realizes  he is not alone.  Under the cupboards and within the walls, there are little people called “Borrowers,” that sneak around throughout the night, taking items that humans would never notice, such as water, cookies, string, or anything else they may need to survive.  It is that night that Sean first sees, and will later befriend, a girl Borrower named Arrietty.  Together they will form a friendship that will help them both overcome some of the life challenges they will face.

During my travel to Malaysia, I was actually able to buy a DVD copy of the original Japanese dub.  I was eager to write a review for it, but decided to wait until the movie was released in the American dub, wanting to watch and compare the two versions.

Studio Ghibli’s newest film is without doubt a far better animated film than the last disappointing film, “Tales of the Earthsea,” which made both Anime and Ghibli fans cringe in disappointment.  Although I never read any of the Borrower books as a child, I basically knew the premise of the story and remembered seeing the live action version with John Goodman and Tom Felton, I felt this version of the Borrowers was well portrayed, despite taking place in Japan. The animation is downright beautiful, making the film look like a children’s picture book coming to life.  You definitely feel like you entered a different world as you watch how the Borrowers use some of the simplest items – things we take for granted.  Sticky tape and fish hooks become tools to use like mountain climbing gear, and a pin needle as a weapon, like a sword, and a small Christmas light bulb as a lantern.  There are times throughout the film that I wanted to pause the film and admire the great scenery and see what materials were used to create the Borrower’s home.  It really gets the imagination kicking in your head!

No great film is complete without great music!  The music is beautifully composed and has some scores that sound Celtic.  It does a good job at making certain scenes more compelling to watch.  It’s been a long time since a movie made me want to buy its soundtrack from ITunes, but I highly recommend it if you’re into calm and soothing music, such as you would hear at coffee bars or art shops.

There are two major issues I have with this film.  For some it may be no big deal, but for others like myself, they can be a deal breaker.  First, I felt that changing the names of the human characters was unnecessary for the American release of the film.  In the Japanese release, the main character’s name is “Sho,” while in the American version, he is named Sean.  This is seriously   disappointing; it seems pointless to give these characters American names when clearly the film takes place in Japan.  If children in these modern times are able to understand and remember difficult names from such franchises such as Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, or any comic book film adaption, then I’m sure they are intelligent enough to understand Asian names.  Also, although the American translation stays true to the original source, I felt they changed some of the dialogue to make the characters appear more western.  The American characters sounded more obnoxious and silly than the Japanese dub.  For example, in the Japanese dub, when Arrietty finds a pin needle, and her father warns her to stay away from the rats, she answers, “I’m not afraid, not as long as I have this at my side.” I prefer that kind of answer over the cocky American line such as, “With my new Sword, I’ll tear them to shreds!”  The second serious issue I had with this film, in both the American and Japanese release of the film, is the motivation of one of the characters.  Haru has a strong desire to capture the small Borrowers.  The film doesn’t explain her motivation or what the Borrowers did to make Haru want to capture them, she just has some strong desire to get them.  Whether it’s for revenge or bragging rights remains unclear, but to me it seems like the character Haru is a tribute to the classic “Cat and mouse” hunt like the Tom and Jerry Cartoons.  It just would be nice that her character had a well-explained back story for the audience to understand.

The Secret world of Arrietty is a safe family film that any parent can take their young children to see.  It’s filled with beautiful animation and music that will please any viewer, no matter how young or old they are, and it will deliver a strong moral message that children need to learn now a days.  It doesn’t matter your age or life style, friendship can be found even in the oddest places an at times we least expect.

Star Rating: 3 and a half/5 stars.

Own it or diss it: Go and see it in the theaters.  If money is an issue, wait till it comes out on DVD and “Borrow” it from a friend.

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