Studio Ghibli is a name familiar to many, conjuring to the mind titles such as Princess Mononoke (1997), Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) and My Neighbour Tortoro (1988). Their latest endeavour is an adaptation of Mary Norton’s children’s classic The Borrowers, re-titled for modern audiences as Arrietty (2010).
The story follows 14-year-old Arrietty and the rest of her family who live hidden away from the world, ‘borrowing’ items to build their homes under the floorboards of a human house. One day, Arrietty is seen by Sho, a young boy who lives with his aunt, and it is here that Arrietty and Sho’s adventures begin.
As is typical of Ghibli, Arrietty is both lavish and sumptuous to watch. Ghilbli’s style is not just beautiful; it is unique, and before long, Ghibli films will hopefully be those to which young children return rather than Disney.
That said, Arrietty is far from the studio’s finest work. It is clearly aimed at a very young market and consequently the story has been stripped to its bare basics, which is to its deficit. Mary Norton’s classic is a beautifully rendered Edwardian myth which offers children a magical world to delve into, and Ghibli has removed much of that wonder by simplifying the plot and eradicating many of the secondary characters.
Ghibli are known for including strong political and environmental issues in their films, thus attracting the more mature audience. In Arrietty, such context has been crowbarred into one scene that is painful to watch in its blatancy. Ghibli appears to have forgotten the golden rule – never talk down to your audience, suggesting that perhaps this film was an attempt to appeal to a more Western market. This is a great shame, as what makes Ghibli an excellent animation studio is that it is distinctly Eastern.
Before watching Arrietty, I was intrigued to see how first time director Hiromasa Yonebayashi would transport this very English story to Ghibli’s own magical world; after all it is not the first time that they have adapted an English novel (Howl’s Moving Castle is an adaptation of Diana Wynne Jones story of the same name). Sadly, this time they appear to have failed. The pace of the film is incredibly trying and I can’t imagine that my nieces and nephew would be entertained by it. The soundtrack is also overly saccharine and the characters one-dimensional. A true disappointment from Ghibli – lets hope that their next project achieves greater things and stays true to its heritage.