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!