For many years now little people have become the central focus in film, from sci-fi thrillers such as The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) to jovial family adventures like Honey I Shrunk the Kids (1989). But one famous story about little people involved no shrinking at all but rather a race of already miniature human beings, Mary Norton’s novel The Borrowers published in 1952. Those of a certain age will be particularly familiar with the story as it was adapted into a successful BBC television series in 1992, starring Ian Holm as the patriarch borrower Pod, and therein lays the origins of my fondness for the story. The Borrowers story has had something of a resurrection in 2011 with both the BBC producing a one off TV special starring national treasure Stephen Fry and the unfaultable Studio Ghibli reimagining the tale in Japan and naming it Arrietty. So what could this reimagining offer a Borrowers purist? A wonderful and captivating new vision, that’s what.
Arrietty is a 14 year old curious borrower who lives with her mother and father under the floorboards of a beautiful large suburban house, which is the home of Sho’s wealthy aunt. Sho is a young boy who is ill and awaiting a heart operation and so retreats to his aunt’s quiet abode for some resting time. Upon his arrival he catches a glimpse of Arrietty and so the golden rule of borrowers not being seen by humans is broken and the life of the borrower family is disrupted and changed forever. Arrietty and Sho develop a friendship and a bond that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.
This is a heart-warming tale that will appeal to children and adults alike. Studio Ghibli’s hand drawn animation is spectacular and from the beginning of the film the beautiful, highly realistic depictions of the garden with beams of sunlight set an incredibly high standard for the impressive animation studio. The characters remain in the familiar stylised design of previous films and in a story predominantly about people there are still the trademark Ghibli animals to delight fans, such as the rotund cat Niya, who quickly became my favourite character, and a villainous crow.
It is easy to see why this has been a longstanding personal project for Ghibli co-founder Hayao Miyazaki as the fantasy story translates wonderfully into the animation medium and the world the animators create is full of the detail and imagination you would expect from both the Borrowers story and the Ghibli studio. The British tale translates seamlessly into the Japanese culture and works wonderfully from beginning to end.
As with most of the Ghibli projects the film is available as a subtitled version and a dubbed version, both of which are included on the DVD and Blu-ray. I have now watched both and while I would recommend the subtitled version first, the dubbed UK version is of a high standard, with familiar voice talents such as Olivia Colman (Homily), Mark Strong (Pod) and Saoirse Ronan (Arrietty) perfectly capturing the essence of the characters. At first it felt a little strange hearing English voices but I quickly got used to it.
The focus on nature within the film is beautifully realised, with a point made about species on the verge of extinction and this underlying message adds a profound depth to a familiar story. The use of sound is also remarkable, a variety of bugs are brought to life with precise use of sound and the movement of the big people is highlighted by sound so that we as the viewer begin to see and hear the world as a borrower would. The story flows consistently and I felt ended at a perfect point. There are also some surprisingly tense moments as we see Arrietty taken out on her first borrowing mission with her father Pod, the retrieval of a sugar cube becomes an operation of military precision and an attempt to borrow a tissue is a truly tense moment.
Whilst Arrietty is not Studio Ghibli’s most memorable film it is still a delight and an extremely nice adaptation of a nostalgic story.
The extras on the DVD are just the film shown in its original storyboard format which is interesting to see but as the only extra it is a little disappointing. Whereas the extras on the double-play deluxe collector’s edition are much more plentiful with storyboards, trailers and Japanese TV spots, interviews with Hayao Miyazaki and director Hiromasa Yonebayashi, Cecile Corbel ‘Arrietty’s Song’ promotional video and a gorgeous fold out case.
Arrietty is out on DVD and Blu-ray on 9th January 2012.
Directors: Hiromasa Yonebayashi, Gary Rydstrom
Writers: Mary Norton (novel “The Borrowers”), Hayao Miyazaki (screenplay), Keiko Niwa (screenplay) and Karey Kirkpatrick screenplay (English version)
Voices (English Version): Olivia Colman, Mark Strong, Saoirse Ronan, Tom Holland
Runtime: 90 mins