Ghibli on Netflix: Arrietty
Alex Clements | On 05, Mar 2020
With Studio Ghibli films now available on Netflix UK, we delve into our archives to look back at what makes them so magical. This article was originally published in 2013.
There are two types of Hayao Miyazaki films. The epic fantasies – Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, Nausicaä – and the domestic fantasies – My Neighbour Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Ponyo and Arrietty. Miyazaki may have only written Arrietty’s screenplay (it’s directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi), but his fingerprints are all over it.
It’s an adaptation of The Borrowers, a 1952 book by Mary Norton – not just a mid-90s television show featuring groundbreaking blue screen effects. Essentially, it’s the story of a young boy whose health problems (a congenital heart defect) keep him at home and away from other children. He’s sent to his aunt’s house to relax before his operation. This is no ordinary house, however, but one inhabited with tiny, mouse-sized people who “borrow” household objects and repurpose them for their tiny lives.
There are some beautifully touching scenes, and overall it’s been very well adapted for film whilst remaining true to its pleasantly twee origins; if you like twee, then this is the film for you.
Another element of the adaptation that’s very faithful is the focus on the mechanical realities of being very tiny. It’s a genuine curiosity in the world that’s utterly charming. Real effort has also been put into the visual design of the insects to make them cute, while still looking like real insects, as opposed to, say, being horrifying monsters capable of eating half the cast. The stand-out animal, though, is the grouchy, Totoro-patterned cat. With the skilled animation Ghibli is famed for, he becomes a superb clown.
One can certainly imagine Old Man Miyazaki (who retired, only to return with Ponyo in 2008) sitting on his porch in some rural prefecture, listening to the cicadas and typing away at his gentle adaptation. If you wanted to see a summer film with your grandparents, Arrietty would be the number one choice. If you wanted to see it with children… well, it depends on the attention spans of the people watching. The film never builds up to dramatic heights of earlier Ghibli works and there are interesting elements set up that never get a pay-off.
Honestly, though, any Ghibli film is normally worth a watch. The animation is always world class and the English-language dub is, as ever, excellent; Ghibli are willing and able to attract top talent suitable for the roles, notably Mark Strong as Pod and Saoirse Ronan as Arrietty. It’s a peaceful, charming film, and there are too few of those these days.
Arrietty is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.
This article was originally published on i-Flicks.net. For our full Studio Ghibli retrospective, see The Magic of Miyazaki.