Disney has released “The Secret World of Arrietty” on DVD and Blu-ray this week, the latest from the renowned Studio Ghibli. I reviewed it when it came out in theaters, but it’s worth another plug, especially now that we get the original Japanese audio with a more accurate subtitle track.
“Arrietty” is everything you’d expect from a Studio Ghibli film: charming and lovely with a strong moral message.
Hayao Miyazaki didn’t direct this adaptation of the classic kids book “The Borrowers,” but he did write and “plan” it, so it’s in good hands.
It’s the story of Arrietty, a 14-year-old Borrower, a tiny race of people who live inside the walls and under the floors of larger humans’ houses and “borrow” the things they need to survive, careful to make sure they don’t take more than they need and nothing that will be missed.
But if a “bean” discovers them, they have to move and stay hidden. Can you imagine what the government would do if they found one of these families?
Anyway, on her first borrowing outing with her father, Pod, Arrietty is spotted by Shawn (Sho in the Japanese version), a human boy staying at his aunt’s country house to rest up before a heart operation.
The pace is fairly leisurely, even for a Ghibli film, but you’ll delight in the details: the way the wind rustles through the ivy on the side of the house, the way surface tension affects the tea the Borrowers pour from their tiny tea pots, the faces on the cat. It’s an attention you expect in computer-animated films but don’t always get in hand-drawn titles any more.
The little moments carry enough tension, and Ghibli is the master of facial expressions in its film. Every surprise, every bit of fear, every show of motherly love is projected on those wonderful faces, at least for the Borrowers.
Shawn is a bit of a wet noodle. His face is mostly blank, as is the voice work by David Henrie (“Wizards of Waverly Place”). Henrie is a lot more animated on that Disney show, so it must have been on purpose, but Shawn kind of drags the film down.
Luckily, we’ve got Carol Burnett as Hara (Haru in the Japanese version), the wacky, Borrower-obsessed maid. She’s a hoot of a villain. Arrietty is voiced by Bridgit Mendler (also on “Wizards of Waverly Place”), and she does a fine job. Sitcom actors Amy Poehler and Will Arnett are Arrietty’s parents, Arnett unrecognizable as the stoic Pod.
I knew it wouldn’t happen, but it would have been fun for kicks it Disney had thrown in the U.K. dub. Oh, well.
There are two sets of English subtitles, one with the U.S. script that includes closed captioning notes and one that’s a straight translation. As usual, the liberties taken go beyond matching lip flaps, and there are some interesting changes. Arrietty’s mom, Homily, for example, doesn’t come off quite as paranoid in the Japanese version. And, of course, they made some name changes.
The disc is woefully lacking in extras. We get storyboards, but no making-of piece. I usually enjoy these. There are a couple music videos, one by Mendler for the song she contributed, “Summertime,” which is a nice enough song but doesn’t really fit. The other is Cecile Corbei’s “Arrietty’s Song,” which is a sweet piece and not what you’d expect after seeing the singer.
Disney has also re-released two other Ghibli movies this week for their Blu-ray: “Whisper of the Heart” and “Castle in the Sky.” “Castle in the Sky” was a great film, and it’s nice to see it on the updgraded format. “Whisper of the Heart” is an interesting choice, though. It’s a nice film, and I’m a sucker for a magical cat, but I thought it a bit odd since “My Neighbor Totoro,” “Kiki’s Delivery Service,” “Howl’s Moving Castle” and Oscar winner “Spirited Away” haven’t received the Blu-ray treatment yet. I would have expected any of those first before “Whisper” and even “Castle in the Sky.”
But, hey, I won’t complain too hard for anything that gets Ghibli films before more eyeballs.