If you were selling the rights for a beloved children’s story for big screen animated adaption, surely there is only one place you could go and be sure that your story would be treated with the love and the attention it deserves. Studio Ghibli have carved an enviable niche for themselves, producing well-crafted, traditionally animated feature films. Whilst their films are usually originally conceived naratives, The Secret World of Arriety is a clear indication that they are equally adept adept at adapting other material.
Whilst the western world has been distracted by the bright colours and simplistic stories of recent CGI creations, Tokyo-based Ghibli has continued (they have been releasing films since the mid-eighties) to steadfastly work with traditional animation methods. Not only that, they have continued to use those methods to put characters and stories first.
The Secret World of Arrietty is an adaption of The Borrowers by Mary Norton. This reassuringly old-fashioned story of the little people who live in the walls of the houses of us big people, borrowing that which they need without us noticing, is complimented perfectly by the Gibhli animation style. The house where Arrietty, a borrower girl venturing out into the big house for the first time, and her family live is well-realised and sufficiently daunting in scale.
The story is sensibly kept quite simple. Where other producers might have chosen to draw on the book’s sequels to lend the film a greater sense of scale and adventure, here we are treated to a small (no pun intended) story, which still manages to feel big thanks to Ghibli’s commitment to fully realising this world and the characters that live within it.
The Secret World of Arrietty has a timeless quality to it. In a marketplace crowded with gaudy CGI extravaganzas, its reassuring that such a finely-crafted, small-scale animated film can still be made. It may not be as flashy as Madagascar 3 or The Lorax but somehow it feels like it has been produced with greater confidence in the story it tells and, ultimately, feels more charming and magical because of the traditional methods employed.