Copyright MainstreamMatt/Mainstream 2005-2011
As much as the current crop of Hollywood animation studios push the boundaries of their art, there is something unrivalled about the magic that Studio Ghibli are able to create with old-fashioned ink and cell. There is a sequence in their latest masterpiece during which a young boy sits in a field, peppered with flowers, and the camera glides across the pastel hues. It’s like watching a painting come-to-life, and I would challenge anyone to find a more hypnotically beautiful sequence to rival it.
Based loosely on Mary Norton’s much cherished novel, The Borrowers, this is the story of Arrietty (Atonement’s Saoirse Ronan), one of the last remaining little people; she is headstrong young explorer who loves to traverse the vines that weave their way around the home of the Clock family, testing the anonymity that keeps her people safe. Their existence is endangered when she makes herself known to Cho, a sick boy on the verge of a life-saving operation, and draws the attention of a greater danger in the form of busy-body housekeeper, Haru.
Everything about this latest film from Japan’s answer to Disney is lovingly recreated in luscious detail. The miniature world in which the borrowers live is intricately drawn, with household objects cluttering their doll’s house home. It’s this kind of detail, in particular the prominent appearance of incidental ladybirds, that makes these hand-drawn artists peerless.
Recurring Ghibli themes are omnipresent; the typical Myazaki eco message doesn’t feel as forced as usual, instead it’s an underlying subtext rather than the driving force of the narrative in a way that it was for a film such as Ponyo. And as ever, the protagonist is a child on the verge of adulthood, which makes this refreshingly relatable for the target audience, and is handled in a delicate, tender way. The scene in which Cho and Arrietty initially communicate through the thin veil of a leaf is a wonderfully touching example of this.
The UK voiceover dub is an improvement on recent attempts to capture the intended reading; Ronan manages to imbue the lines with the right emotions to make Arrietty one of the more straightforward and empathetic of Ghibli’s weird litany of protagonists, but I would always recommend seeking out the original language version where possible.
Arrietty is effortlessly charming; so what if it lacks the pop-culture references or jokes skewered towards the adult market, when was the last time a children’s film succeeded based solely on an abundance of heart and simple storytelling? This is one of the most enchanting and evocatively gorgeous films of the last decade.