Friday, April 13, 2012

Episode 1 - The Secret World of Arrietty - 6/10

Let’s get something out really quick. My feelings towards Japanese Animation as an effective form of storytelling are on par with my feelings towards rice cakes being an effective form of nourishment. Sure, they can get the job done, but unless you do something truly special and outside the box with them, they just wind up fucking bland every time.

But they’re popular enough regardless and in the case of anime, this popularity piqued the interest of Disney who, for the last decade, has been porting over movies from Studio Ghibli to give the mainstream American audience a warm introduction to the medium. Of course, nearly every one of their attempts has been from the “Humans are the devil and things would be better off if we just left shit alone” line up so I’m not quite sure what market their trying to cater to. 

This time around, Disney brought us The Secret World of Arrietty which was ripped from the pages of the children’s classic The Borrowers, about a home that’s inhabited by a family of “tiny, little people.” Racing through the house like those rabid squirrel things from Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, these “borrowers” secretly acquire items that they feel we won’t really miss so they can be used for their own survival; things like sugar cubes, tissue paper, lackluster children’s book adaptations, etc.
Naturally, this story focuses around Arrietty, an ambitious 14-year old girl who sets off on her first “borrowing” (theft…let’s just call it for what it is), but is accidently discovered by Shawn, a sickly 12-year old boy who is only sick because this movie felt it needed a meaningful conversation about dying despite rubbing in our face that the idea of being eaten by some random animal is something that should be laughed at. 

Establishing a friendship with as much depth as the animation cels they were drawn on, Arrietty and Shawn spend their time, not exploring the mysteries that surround each other’s world, but whining about how Shawn is dying and how Arrietty has to move away because she keeps telling her parents that she keeps talking to Shawn and they find this a problem because “humans can’t just leave shit alone.” This leads to a 10-minute kidnapping plot where an off-her-rocker caretaker snatches up Arrietty’s mother, which further emphasizes why Arreitty’s family needs to move the fuck away, but other than it’s really just a diversion to give you a break from the cookie cutter conversation of “I was ok with dying but you showed me what it means to be brave because you steal shit from the kitchen and aren’t terrified of my psycho cat.”

In fact, The Secret World of Arrietty banks so much on this friendship and the stale “WB Network”-inspired sentimentality it tries to portray that the fact that one person lives in a big world and another person lives in a world where you use foam tape to climb up table legs gets completely lost and what starts out as a fun, creative episode of Mac Guyver turns into a sappy, insomnia-curing re-run of Dawson’s Creek

Arrietty is a movie that showed a lot of promise, but just didn’t live up to it. It spent the first half hour getting you lost in the world below the floorboards where earrings were grappling hooks, exposed screws were staircases, and acquiring something as simple as a cracker was like going grocery shopping with Ethan Hunt, but spent the next hour after that completely devoid of creativity and subjecting you to “the power of friendship.” I understand the appeal of these “slice of life” movies, but it’s a bit cheating if you set the wrong expectations from the get-go with a concept that has SO much potential but no actual follow through; it’s like if The Notebook started with an epic car chase complete with flamethrower headlights and that helicopter with the Gatling gun that just seems to be lying around for anyone to use.

Bottom line, it just wasn’t any fun. It was barely creative, nothing fit together comfortably, and the point it tried to get across was dumbed down so much even the 5-year old target market would have looked at it and said “mommy, can I have a rice cake? I want something with more flavor.”

Sadly, what once was my teenage obsession again disappoints me; the fact that this was a Japanese anime does not save the fact that it was a crappy production (which is normally the sin of fan-children which is why there’s a market for this genre in the first place). I give The Secret World of Arrietty 6 dustbusters out of 10, which I use to suck up these Borrowers so they can wallow in filth and think about what they’ve done.


  1. Oh BackLOG, how I've missed you!

    I read "The Borrowers" as a kid and I remember it being a great adventure full of discoveries, secrets, and unlikely friendships. It's disappointing to hear that it's been turned into a maudlin bore. Such a waste of great source material.

    I've never quite understood Disney's interest in these types of films either. It could be that, as you mentioned, they're attempting to give America a "soft" introduction to the art of anime, but Disney's target market has always been children...if the films had been released under a division of Disney that focused on a different audience I might understand, but I don't get how fire demons, faceless ghosts, and little girls trapped in spirit worlds say "kid's movie" to the studio.

    I enjoyed earlier Disney-distributed anime films ("Howl's Moving Castle" and "Spirited Away" specifically), but I think Arietty's world is going to remain a secret (to me, anyway). :)

  2. Yeah, I remember in the books, death was a much bigger theme as Arrietty lost...I believe her aunt...or something and it just lingered.

    I know that John Lassater loved Miyazaki, which started this whole nonsense, but now Disney's treatment of it is borderline what anime was when it first started getting popular, where it just seemed to have been put out there for the sake of doing so. Truer anime distributors have learned from these mistakes and have taken more care at what they put out.

    Honestly, I feel that Disney could make a better showing if they devoted a little effort to the other films that make it out of the anime world that don't come from Studio Ghibli. Though I don't know what any of those would be, I have heard many a statement of "you need to watch this."

    Glad to have you back also Mike! I have very much missed this! I hope you like the video...if you watched it :)

    1. I did indeed, enjoyed the format very much. Looking forward to the next one. I'm about 5 minutes from the "cheapie theater" (as I call it), if you don't mind company I may just join you on one of your future outings.

  3. I would like that! That was one of the benefits of this format was that I could invite people to it. I have to put up the review for Human Centipede 2 and I'll decide what movie 3 will be.

  4. what the hell? Arrietty was an awesome movie!