Residing quietly beneath the floorboards are little people who live undetected in a secret world to be discovered. Arrietty (voice of Bridgit Mendler), a tiny, but tenacious 14-year-old, lives with her parents (voices of Will Arnett and Amy Poehler) in the recesses of a suburban garden home, unbeknownst to the homeowner and her housekeeper (voice of Carol Burnett). Like all little people, Arrietty (AIR-ee-ett-ee) remains hidden from view, except during occasionalcovert ventures beyond the floorboards to “borrow” scrap supplies like sugar cubes from her human hosts.
But when 12-year-old Shawn (voice of David Henrie), a human boy who comes to stay in the home, discovers his mysterious housemate one evening, a secret friendship blossoms. If discovered, their relationship could drive Arrietty’s family from the home and straight into danger. From the legendary Studio Ghibli (“Spirited Away,” “Ponyo”) comes “The Secret World of Arrietty,” an animated adventure based on Mary Norton’s acclaimed children’s book series “The Borrowers.”
I've always been deeply impressed and honestly moved by Hayao Miyazaki's work. As a fan of all kinds of animation, I must say the movies Miyazaki has created are some of the lushest and most beautiful I've ever seen, yet they usually retain a down-to-earth quality. His productions never comes across as too cartoony, much like Don Bluth's realistic style compared to the cartoonier creations from later Disney films.
While Miyazaki didn't direct 'The Secret World of Arrietty,' he did have a hand in writing the screenplay. Even though the project was overseen by director, and relative newcomer, Hiromasa Yonebayashi the movie still reflects Miyazaki's influence in every frame.
'The Secret World of Arrietty' is a re-imagining of Mary Norton's fantasy novel "The Borrowers." Young Arrietty is a tiny person. She lives under the floorboards of a country house. They are able to live their lives by "borrowing" certain items from the humans that live above them. Arrietty's father, Pod, is a stoic force in their tiny household. He warns her to stay away from the humans and to only borrow things that the humans won't miss.
Although, like many young animated heroines, Arrietty is headstrong and believes that humans can't be all that bad. Sho (known as Shawn in the U.S. dubbed version) is a young human boy who lives in the house above Arrietty's family. He's sick and is waiting to have surgery on his heart. Even though the movies focuses mainly on Arrietty and her family's struggles, one of the more prominent characters is Sho, who turns out to be a well-reserved, friendly young man. Like many kids with wild imaginations Sho isn't all that surprised that tiny people called Borrowers are living under his home. He accepts the knowledge easily and tries his best to help them out.
'The Secret World of Arrietty' flows without too much hoopla. It's a quiet, reserved film full of startlingly gorgeous animation. Arrietty looks as if she's traveling along on the canvas of a spectacular watercolor painting. The film is a marvel to look at.
But, there is something else. It's the simple, yet fascinating pacing that the movie has. This isn't your standard three act play. Everything plays out much slower than that. Like watching a babbling brook on a warm summer's day, 'The Secret World of Arrietty' ebbs and flows with its emotional currents. It isn't too concerned with relaying a tale of high-octane excitement or over-the-top humor. Instead it wants to tell a simple story, simply, and it succeeds.
Miyazaki fans will most likely be enamored with this film. As I say, even though he didn't direct it, his fingerprints are all over it. In simple ways the movie is able to create an inspiring story set against the backdrop of breathtaking animation.
Watching 'The Secret World of Arrietty' is a relaxing exercise. It doesn't ask too much from its viewer, instead we are treated to a lush world full of well-bodied characters, and a story that sucks us in with its utter simplicity. 'Arrietty' is another instant classic for Studio Ghibli.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This Studio Ghibi release is distributed by Disney which means that even though it isn't indicated with the familiar star on the outside, there are indeed Disney Movie Reward points included. The movie comes in a Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack. It is packaged in a standard Blu-ray keepcase, is labeled as being region free, and comes with a slipcover that mirrors the artwork on the case.
The default audio track for the movie is the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English version. If you want the Japanese Master Audio track then you'll have to go into set-up and pick that option and then into subtitles to select your desired language.
Was there really any doubt that this would be anything less than demo material? Disney's 1080p release of 'Arrietty' is a wonder to behold in high-def. Disney are masters of transferring animated movies to Blu-ray which is a good reason that they're doing the Studio Ghibli titles. The animation is so rich and vibrant that it really must be curated by the best in the business so it's in tip-top shape when it hits Blu-ray. That's the case here.
The entire movie, from beginning to end, hasn't one single flaw. The beautiful, hand-drawn animation, has sharp and distinct lines. However, many of the backgrounds take on a watercolor feel. The marriage between the sharp, defined animated figures and the slightly more abstract backgrounds works perfectly here. There isn't one line out of place, or one color that isn't saturated perfectly. Ever color appears with an effervescent pop on screen. Blacks are decidedly dark and inky.
The image is clean and free from any artifacts one might happen to run into. There isn't one grain of dust or one errant speck that pops up during the whole film. Along with being stunningly elegant the transfer is also technically proficient. You can't ask for much more than that. Disney has done it again.
There are two main options here. First is the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English track which features the voices of recognizable actors like Will Arnett, Carol Burnett, and Amy Poehler. Then there is the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Japanese track, which is my preference. I simply don't really like the English dubbed versions of Studio Ghibli releases.
I did switch back and forth through the different tracks after I had finished watching the entire movie with the original language track, and I can say that besides the voices being changed, the two tracks are virtually identical. Sound effects and music have the same clarity and fidelity on both tracks. When it comes down to it, it's simply a matter of personal preference.
As for the technical aspects of the mix, I'm here to say that it's just about as impressive as the picture-perfect video transfer. The one thing you'll notice is that even though the movie is light with on screen action, the rear channels are still alive with naturalistic sounds – birds chirping, rain drops splattering, and cats purring – that add subtle realism to the mix. Dialogue is always clear and concise. Creaking wood floors echo with astonishing clarity. LFE is used judiciously. Whenever big events happen and we see it from Arrietty's view point low rumbling bass usually gives us a feeling of what it would be like to hear human footsteps only being four inches tall. It really is a great, all-encompassing sound mix that fans are sure to enjoy.
Sadly there isn't much here in the way of special features.
Right after I finished watching 'The Secret World of Arrietty' I wanted to watch it again. It was such a peaceful, calming experience that it was good to get away from the usual high-flying, butt-kicking world that modern day American cartoons inhabit. It's nice to sit back and just let the spectacular animation wash over you. With demo-quality video and near-perfect audio this disc is a winner. Sure, the special features package is sparse at best, but the rest makes this a highly recommended release.