Never be seen… that is the first rule of the little people.
Here’s what I wrote about this one back in February:
“Based on Mary Horton’s family literary marvel The Borrowers, the latest effort from Studio Ghibli The Secret World of Arrietty is the first non-Hayao Miyazaki directed effort I can honestly say I think comes remarkably close to being a masterpiece. With a screenplay co-written by the Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke genius, this sparkling adaptation transcends culture and ethnicity to become instantly timeless. This divine hand-drawn animated adventure took my breath away on more than one occasion, and by the time it came to an end all I wanted to do was run up to the projection booth and make the theatre start it over from the beginning.
Arrietty (voiced by Bridgit Mendler) and her equally diminutive mother Homily (voiced by Amy Poehler) and father Pod (voiced by Will Arnett) live in a tiny abode built within a stack of bricks underneath the foundation of a secluded country home. The wily housekeeper Hara (voiced by Carol Burnett) has known something strange has been going on for quite some time, while sickly newcomer Shawn (voiced by David Henrie) is fascinated by his Aunt Jessica’s (voiced by Gracle Poletti) unbelievable stories of the little people and of the doll house her father built in hopes they’d someday choose to live there.
Shawn has seen Arrietty, he knows that she and her family exist and are not figments of his or anyone else’s imagination. Pod and Homily are terrified to learn that their daughter has been having conversations with a ‘being’ (that’s Human Being, to you and me), and know from past tragedies that they will have to immediately move in order to avoid catastrophe. But the bond between Shawn and Arrietty goes deeper than either realizes, their friendship maybe the only thing assuring the latter’s survival and the former’s recovery from a devastating ailment.
Horton’s story has been adapted before, most notably in 1997 by director Peter Hewitt (Garfield). While I liked that version, starring John Goodman and Jim Broadbent, it doesn’t hold a candle to this one by Studio Ghibli. Miyazaki, co-writer Keiko Niwa and director Hiromasa Yonebayashi show the material such respect, such reverence, they manage to bring forth all of its major themes of friendship, family and self-reliance to light with ravishing ease. At the same time, they’re not so beholden to Horton’s source material that they’re afraid to make cinematic changes that could help the tale reverberate on a deeper level. It’s a masterful reinterpretation of the novel, each moment spent with Arrietty, Shawn, Pod, Homily and all the rest ones to cherish.
The animation is as richly layered as any of Miyazaki’s classics, having a distinct look and feel that’s similar to Kiki’s Delivery Service and Howl’s Moving Castle but at the same time achieving a delicately balanced milieu intractably its own. Colors pop off the screen, rich blues and greens filling the frame giving things an earthly sheen that speaks to the ecological and humanistic balance central to the story (and, in retrospect, to the majority of Miyazaki and his studio’s previous efforts).
Disney has maybe gone a bit overboard in some respects, casting their “Wizards of Waverly Place” starlet Mendler and by giving her a slightly obnoxious Radio Disney pop song to sing over the end credits (the U.K. version featured Saoirse Ronan in the part; I’d love to hear what she did with it). She’s not bad, not at all, she just brings an unceasingly precocious perkiness to her portrayal that, at times, grew tiresome.
But as far as complaints go this feels like a remarkably minor one. The Secret World of Arrietty soars at every turn, building to an honestly tearful finale that’s touching, poignant and altogether natural. If this is the direction Studio Ghibli is going to go now that Miyazaki has begun passing the animation torch to others then my hopes for their continued success are certainly augmented. Their version of Horton’s novel borders on perfection, and even though it’s only February there’s every indication I’ve just watched the best animated film I’m likely to see this year.”
Those minor complaints I spent so much time waxing poetic about in that original review? Forget about them. I’ve now watched The Secret World of Arrietty three additional times since the Blu-ray arrived, and in all honesty I’m not quite sure how I kept from giving it a four-star review. This movie comes perilously close to perfect and is easily the first non-Miyazaki effort I can happily proclaim an instant masterpiece. I can’t wait to show this film to my three nieces, to my sister, to my brother; heck, I’m pretty positive even my Mom will adore it. The movie is that good, that awesome, and next to Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke I have a feeling this disc is going to see the inside of my player far more often than I should probably openly admit.
The Secret World of Arrietty is presented on a dual-layer 50GB Blu-ray MPEG-4 AVC Video with a 1080p 1.85:1 transfer. A stunning transfer, as per usual with Disney as it normally comes to animated titles, this one looks to my eye even better than usual. Colors are rich, vibrant and alive, black levels are striking and consistent and there’s no banding, aliasing or any other sort of obnoxious noise to be found. Simply beautiful; there isn’t another word out there that could describe this transfer any better.
This disc features English & Japanese Language DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 tracks as well as French Dolby Digital 5.1 and includes optional English SDH and French subtitles.
Extras here include:
· Original Japanese Storyboards
· Original Japanese Theatrical Trailers & Television Spots
· “Arrietty’s Song”- Cécile Corbel Music Video
· “Summertime” – Bridgit Mendler Music Video
· The Making of “Summertime”
If something is lacking with this Blu-ray, than it is the collection of extras assembled for this release. The inclusion of the Japanese storyboards is nice, and the original trailers and TV spots are interesting (although, at over 13 minutes, do go on forever), but the two music videos – especially the one by Radio Disney star Mendler – are instantly forgettable, and while the latter required a ‘making-of’ spot I seriously do not understand.
The best extra? The inclusion of the original Japanese language audio track, but as that’s not technically a special feature I probably shouldn’t be waxing poetic about it here (even though that’s exactly what I did).
The Secret World of Arrietty is an instant masterpiece. Disney’s Blu-ray presentation is perilously close to technical perfection. Adding this title to a person’s personal library and adding it to the family watching rotation is as forgone conclusion as any I’d hope there ever was. Buy it today.