The uncomfortable thing about reviewing this, or any Studio Ghibli film, is the fact that as a critic I'm required, essentially by law, to compare it to it's predecessors. And given that previous Studio Ghibli films include Grave of the Fireflies, Spirited Away and motherfucking Princess Mononoke (IE, 3 films of such depth, beauty and intellect that they would cause Pixar to hang their head in shame), it makes it an impossible standard to live up to. But that doesn't mean The Secret World of Arietty is anything resembling bad.
The plot is devoted to Arietty, a Borrower (think a fairy without the wings) living under the floorboards in a house in the Japanese country with her mother and father. Borrowers are so named because they survive by borrowing small things from humans, things they won't miss like cookies, sugar and pins. As the film opens, she has been accidentally spotted by Shawn, a sickly boy sent to the country to rest and well, you can just see the movie.
While you can probably guess most of the good things about this film's animation (IE it's fucking GORGEOUS) I was actually struck by how visually inventive it is. Much of the film is given over to how a human might live at that size, and to the tools they make out of small items they might 'borrow' from normal sized humans. A personal favorite is earrings used as climbing hooks but that's far from the only one. A lot of time is also spent giving the audience a real sense of scale, how tiny the Borrowers are and how much bigger the world is than them. I may sound like I'm ranting, but this really helped me feel for the characters in the long run.
The characters are also one of the films triumphs, being extremely well rounded and interesting. The story is engaging, but it's in the story and characters that the film finds its few failings. The story is rather weirdly paced for one thing. It has a rather lengthy first and second act, and a rather abbreviated third act. It should also be noted that the dialogue is occasionally deeply unsubtle and really kind of sappy, but that's probably the kids movie thing leaking through, so I'll forgive it. Oh and the villain lacks any real motivation beyond 'She's just a jerk' but since it's based on a book, I sense a cut subplot (as she keeps hinting at one that never gets fleshed out).
Look, it's minor issues aside, The Secret World of Arietty is an extremely beautiful and well made film and if you have kids it's almost certain to be one the best kids films of the year. So if you're looking for my recommendation: Yeah, go see it. Oh and if you're wondering, I really didn't see too much of an 'environmental message' in it, so I don't know what Fox was on about. Besides being assholes. See you next time.
Elessar is a 22 year old Alaskan born cinephile and the main male character looked so much like Ashitaka that it became awkward.