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.