So, I finally got around to seeing The Secret World of Arrietty, and as you may be able to guess from the title of this post, I was not less than impressed.
For those who aren’t in the know, The Secret World of Arrietty is a Japanese animated film, produced by Studio Ghibli, based on the novel The Borrowers by Mary Norton, with a screenplay by Hayao Miyazaki (of Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle fame), directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, and distributed in the U.S. by Disney (as most of the Studio Ghibli films have been).
Now, I’ve never read the original book, which may or may not be a good thing in trying to evaluate this movie, so everything I say is based purely on the movie and Miyazaki’s adaptation, rather than the novel itself. I’m going to skip an involved summary because I think most people know the basic story, but generally: it’s about Arrietty and her family, the tiny Borrowers who live in the floorboards of a house and “borrow” things they need to survive.
As always with Miyazaki, the animation was gorgeous. Simply GORGEOUS. He and his production crew have an amazing eye for color and detail and depth – every scene is lush and vivid and inviting, full of life and color and a strong feeling of nostalgia. That has not changed with this movie. I think I will always be impressed and awed by the art direction in all of Studio Ghibli’s movies, and nothing can change that. For example, check these out:
The problem starts, for me, with the voice acting. I have grown quite sick of Disney’s management of the Studio Ghibli films they bring to the U.S. Their casting choices are often horrendous. I hated most of the voice-acting in Ponyo, and I hated ALL of the voice-acting in Arrietty. It was astoundingly bad. Not only did they cast a couple annoying, talentless, Disney Channel “actors” (Bridgit Mendler and David Henrie) but even Carol Burnett (whom I usually adore) did an atrocious job. And Will Arnett, who played Arrietty’s father, was so flat and lifeless I thought for sure they had actually hired a zombie version of him.
To make matters worse: the SINGING! Normally, Joe Hisaishi composes the scores for Miyazaki’s films, but this time they hired a French songwriter/singer named Cecile Corbel. I’ll say this, she is a good composer. I liked the score, and the songs with lyrics had nice melodies. Sadly, I don’t understand WHY she’s a popular singer, because her voice was so tinny, infantile, and cloying I wanted to throw up every time she started singing. And she did at least three times through the course of the movie. In comparison, Bridgit Mendler’s song during the credits was almost bearable. ALMOST.
What’s really sad though, is that even if Disney had cast better voice-actors, and even if Cecile Corbel had found someone else to do the singing for her, it would not have been enough to save this movie. The plot was, sadly, really REALLY BORING. It was slow and dragging. By the end of the first half-hour I was tempted to turn it off. It lacked all the depth, liveliness, and touches of humor that Miyazaki’s films normally have. And after Ponyo (which was cute, but fairly forgettable) and THIS, I’m really beginning to worry that Miyazaki has lost his touch completely.
And if that’s true, it’s a sad sad day in cinema.