Studio Ghibli’s ‘The Secret World of Arrietty’ stars intrepid heroine

“The Secret World of Arrietty,” which opened Friday, is the latest effort from Studio Ghibli, the same animation studio that created Spirited Away, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Howl’s Moving Castle, Ponyo, Castle in the Sky, and Princess Mononoke. Unlike American animation, many of Ghibli’s films star powerful female protagonists and feature multiple strong female characters. Ghibli doesn’t disappoint with its new movie. Arrietty is smart, resourceful, brave, and beautiful. She is just three inches tall.

The animation style shows what it’s like to be tiny and vulnerable in a world of intimidating giants in countless original and creative ways. Arrietty leaps across a row of nails aligned like a rickety bridge over a chasm. She uses a pin like a sword, shoving it into her dress for easy access. My five-year-old is obsessed with bugs, and those are particularly well done in this movie. We see crickets, roaches, ladybugs, and my daughter’s absolute favorite: roly-polies. Arrietty’s home is so beautiful, colorful, and cozy, we wanted to move in.

The love of this new movie is widespread. In the New York Times, critic Manhola Dargis writes:

Arrietty seems bigger because her courage, along with her fluid form and softly dappled world, come by way of the famed Japanese company Studio Ghibli, where little girls rule, if not necessarily as princesses.

That kind of screen equality is rare in American animation (this year Pixar releases its first movie with a female lead), but it’s never been an issue at Ghibli, where girls have long reigned, without the usual frou-frou, in films like “Spirited Away” and “Ponyo.” In keeping with that tradition, a tiara and pink tulle don’t make Arrietty special: her size and especially her bravery do, as evident when, early on, she sprints across a yard with a few leaves and a sprig of flowers while being chased by a cat that looks like a furry blowfish.

I do have a couple questions about the marketing of this film. Have you heard of it? Seen a poster around town on a bus? A TV commercial? I found the poster weeks ago on the internet while I was briefly researching kids movies coming out in 2012.

From the poster, I could not tell that the female was the star. I thought the boy was. I also couldn’t tell from the poster that the girl pictured was “Arrietty.” I thought the title referred to the name of another world. One more thing: If Arrietty were male, do you think he would be shown walking in front of  jar giving the impression he could be easily trapped inside of it, with a giant girl’s face looming over him? Do you think he would share the poster with a human girl at all?

In contrast, the ubiquitous Lorax, all over TV and buses, claims his spot with no doubt about who he is, clearly defining the made up word with his picture.

So I’ll do my best to promote this incredible film right now: it came Friday and daughter has already seen it twice– how good a rec is that? Reel Girl rates ‘The Secret World of Arrietty” ***GGG*** Take your sons and daughters!

9 thoughts on “Studio Ghibli’s ‘The Secret World of Arrietty’ stars intrepid heroine

  1. Also – I just realised I never checked back about The Secret World of Arrietty. I’ve seen it now. Unfortunately, it’s not top-class as film, as a Ghibli or as an adaption of the Borrowers. My partner also thought that there was an incipient (doomed! so doomed!) romance which I didn’t notice, but which would be a real shame as one of the strengths of the book is that it is about friendship between a boy and a girl who live in very different worlds.

    Arrietty is certainly the most interesting character in the first book – I don’t remember if it’s told from her perspective or if it’s reported by the boy. I have a feeling it’s the later but – despite that – I don’t think he’s the main character and I’m pretty sure he’s not even in the later ones. He’s like the narrator in Wuthering Heights, I think. But it has been a while, so I could be wrong.

    Arrietty is – in all the versions of this I’ve seen, even the disappointing Ghibli – pretty awesome. Very much in charge of her own destiny, athletic, practical, interested in some ‘masculine’ and some ‘feminine’ things.

    The books are, however, at least 60 years old so there may be some unpleasantness I don’t remember. I have a feeling there’s something in one of the books where her cousins say girls shouldn’t go borrowing but she squashes the notion.

  2. Haven’t seen a poster or any advertising yet (which is a shame as this has just moved to the top of my must-see list). The BBC put out a(nother?) live action version over xmas with Christopher Ecclestone and Stephen Fry (in supporting roles) which was very good. And the books are excellent – a good topic for a Reel Girl review, perhaps?

  3. Perhaps the poster doesn’t make it clear what Arietty is, but as a lover of literature and a fan of Mary Norton’s “The Borrowers” (to the extent that my cat is named Eggletina) I immediately knew what this one was and am crazily looking forward to Ghibli’s rendition of it. The BBC did a live-action version as well which was fabulous, but it was never widely distributed for purchase, so most people are only aware of that awful John Goodman disaster that made it into theaters.

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