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Blu-ray Review: The Secret World of Arrietty

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The Film

The breathtaking beauty of the animation in Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s The Secret World of Arrietty is easily enough of a basis on which to recommend the film. The latest effort from Studio Ghibli to make it to the U.S. is a decidedly smaller, thinner work than the Miyazaki films the studio has built its reputation on, but Arrietty remains an enchanting work nonetheless.

ArriettyBased on Mary Norton’s 1952 novel The Borrowers, The Secret World of Arrietty tells a familiar tale about inch-high people living underneath the floorboards and borrowing small items — sugar cubes, tissue paper, sewing pins — that won’t be missed by the “human beans.” Adventurous 14-year-old Arrietty (voiced by Bridgit Mendler in the U.S. dub, the default audio option on this disc) is just beginning her career as a borrower, with gruff father Pod (Will Arnett) showing her the ropes and mom Homily (Amy Poehler) worrying about her every second.

Sickly adolescent Shawn (David Henrie) has gone to stay in his great aunt’s secluded home to convalesce before a heart operation, and he inadvertently discovers Arrietty one night in his room. Pod and Homily take the discovery as a sign that they need to move, but Arrietty becomes convinced Shawn is a friend.

There’s a very relaxed, languid feel to Arrietty that makes the film quite appealing despite the way it tends to deflate dramatic tension. A subplot about caretaker Hara (Carol Burnett) attempting to trap the borrowers by way of exterminator doesn’t overtake the narrative like one might expect, and the film is better for it. Yonebayashi is just as content to linger in the gorgeous garden surroundings — every bit of foliage and water droplet carefully animated — as he is to advance the friendship between Arrietty and Shawn.

The Secret World of Arrietty is a very worthy effort from the folks at Studio Ghibli, even if its narrative lacks the memorability to make the film an all-time classic. One only needs to become engrossed in the imagery — it’s not hard — to appreciate the remarkable artistry on display here.

The Blu-ray Disc

Disney’s Blu-ray grants The Secret World of Arrietty a 1080p high definition transfer in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, and the result is pretty much perfect. Colors are vibrant, line work is sharply defined and impeccably clean, fine detail is abundant and overdone digital manipulation is nowhere to be seen.

The default audio option is the United States dub, presented in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. The original Japanese production track is also granted a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, which should be appreciated by purists. The dub isn’t bad at all, although the addition of several lines of dialogue and an atrocious Disney pop song from Mendler tacked on to the end make the Japanese track even more appealing. The sound quality is superb, with crisp, clean dialogue from the fronts and nicely immersive effects filling out the space.

Special Features

A typically underwhelming slate of extras from Disney, save for one — a feature-length animatic of the original storyboards, accompanied by the audio from the finished product. For animation enthusiasts, this is a fantastic inclusion.

Otherwise, we get a couple of music videos — Cécile Corbel’s “Arrietty’s Song” and Mendler’s “Summertime” — along with a brief making-of about the “Summertime” video. The disc also includes a 10-minute reel of Japanese trailers and TV spots for the film.

Included in the package is a DVD of the film, with only the “Summertime” extras included.

The Bottom Line

Another worthy film from Studio Ghibli given a wonderful A/V presentation from Disney.

About Dusty Somers

Dusty Somers is a Seattle-based editor and writer. He is a member of the Online Film Critics Society and Seattle Theater Writers.