“The Secret World of Arrietty,” written by Hayao Miyazaki, Keiko Niwa and Mary Norton (novel “The Borrowers”), directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, 94 minutes, rated G.
Based on “The Borrowers” by Mary Norton, “The Secret World of Arrietty,” tells the tale of Shawn (voiced by David Henrie), a young boy battling a life-threatening heart disease, who moves out to his mother’s old house in the country for a summer of peace and tranquility before a serious operation determines his fate.
On his first day there, Shawn gets a glimpse of a doll-sized girl, Arrietty, (voiced by Bridgit Mendler) known as a Borrower. She and her family have inhabited the house for generations, living off of stolen items such as buttons, crackers and cubes of sugar that humans won’t notice if they go missing. Against the will of her parents, Arrietty begins to trust Shawn and build a friendship with him, endangering their secret life under the floorboards.
As with every Studio Ghibli feature, such as “Spirited Away” or “My Neighbor Totoro,” “Arrietty’s” animation if gawk-worthy, as director Hiromasa Yonebayashi takes full advantage exploring the wondrous, scaled-down world of the Borrowers. The day-to-day living of these tiny people – venturing out on borrowing missions, evading cats and mice, and finding uses for our household knickknacks – is as engrossing as the animation.
However, Disney attempts to Americanize “Arrietty” without damaging its integrity too badly. Instead, we get a compromised mash-up of East and West that feels a little disoriented. The film’s dialogue and score, along with some Japanese-inspired ballads, will struggle to win over mainstream American audiences, while the voice acting will alienate die-hard anime fans. For Disney, there’s really no winning.
Mendler and Will Arnett are well cast as Arrietty and her father, Pod, while Amy Poehler brings too much eccentric energy to Arrietty’s mother, Homily, and Henrie’s trademark “Wizards of Waverly Place” tomfoolery is stifled by the ailing Shawn’s somberness. Sadly, Henrie, whose future looks bright in Hollywood, is just the wrong guy for the job here.
This inconsistency in voice acting is just another reason foreign films should be subtitled and never dubbed, and probably a reason most anime enthusiasts will avoid “Arrietty” in theaters. Or they saw it months ago before it even hit American multiplexes.
But for the rest of us who have little to no idea what “Naruto” or “Bleach” are, and have hardly scratched the surface of what Studio Ghibli has to offer, there’s too much good in the pint-sized world of “Arrietty” to ignore. Even with the dubbing.
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