The Borrower Arrietty is yet another mediocre Ghibli film, which was adored by thousands of people only because they were completely disappointed with their previous works, Tales From Earthsea and Ponyo in the Cliff. It is indeed not a complete travesty like those two, only because the supposed-retired super awesome director Hayao Miyazaki ran back to supervise most of whatever they were doing. Thank goodness he realized that making quality family movies is not something everybody can do. It takes talent and attention; something of which his successors (his own son included) have no idea of.
I happened to have seen the cartoon series from the 80’s when I was a kid, as well as the live action movie they made some years back, both of which were based on the same book. Well sorry to say this but those earlier versions were better because the older, the better… Err, I meant those had more plot. And seriously, of all the myriads of things they could have shown from the civilization of the little people, they only focused on a single family living in the middle of nowhere, while it has two big people (our kind that is) coming for a visit in the house they are living in for years. And that is pretty much all you get from the plot, as most of it is about the human boy Shou becoming a friend with Borrower girl Arrietty. By the time their background is established, the movie is almost over.
It’s not like there is nothing going on in the story but it sure as hell is not exciting. There is a battle scene of sorts with a crow, and some annoying cat running around, and some granny capturing some little people for awhile. All that mean nothing in the longrun since the most core themes of the movie are left hanging to dry. What about Shou’s illness? What about the Borrowers moving away to safety? What about that granny capturing them for unknown reasons? What about an entire new civilization in the brink of extinction being suddenly revealed to the world? What about their hostile relationships? None of those cool things happen and the most exciting part was seeing a frail sick boy trying to unstuck a crow from a window for over ten minutes.
In case you are wondering why would I expect all that from a family movie, just head back in the older Ghibli films to find out why. Hayao used to make world-shaking events, full of action and suspense, people dying by the millions, civilizations crumbling, and vengeful spirits or beasts huge as skyscrapers turning everything to rubble. And now you get a frail boy trying to save a tiny person from a dollhouse, guarded by a senile granny. That’s it… Maybe if the house was demolished, that crow had eaten some Borrower, the rats had bitten Shuu, Arrietty was falling in love with him, that other savage Borrower was feeling threatened and planned some sort of backstabbing, maybe if we would see the other Borrowers living away being invaded by ants or something, then the movie would be great. Those are lots of maybies and eventually all you get is less than a typical kid film. What I am trying to say here is that they could have done a thousand things with the premise and offered practically nothing.
If you are in for the production values, you are going to like it of course; Ghibli don’t hold back in making everything look splendid. The Borrower microcosmos looks awesome and you are made to think that crossing a simple rabbit hole is an adventure on its own. Voice acting is good, BGM is good, stuff move around nicely instead of watching frozen caricatures with a flapping mouth. They still look rather generic in a Ghibli sense but whatever, they are fine. Superficially you get a wonderful looking setting and well established characters. The problem is they are not doing much with all that and remain on a completely simple level; simplistic character interactions and scratching of the threat humans are to Borrowers. Shou is the perfect good-hearted boy and Arrietty is the perfect risky girl that is ready to go against the rules in order to get what she wants. It was way too easy for them to get friends and cooperate against the dreaded dangers of… fetching sugar… or getting out of a doll house… or getting on a tiny boat and strolling down a calm river… GAH this is so boring! Where is the conflict, the development, the insecurity, the violent struggle with the status quo? They are so basic, they might as well don’t exist at all.
Down to it the movie is not that good. It will appeal to all ghiblitards just for the sake of being Ghibli and it will only be remembered as the film which doesn’t suck like the earlier ones. For those who want something far more cool and similar, I recommend the amazing Le Planet Sauvage.
Scores in a hurry
ART SECTION: 9/10
Analysis: General Artwork 2/2, Character Figures 1/2, Backgrounds 2/2, Animation 2/2, Visual Effects 2/2
SOUND SECTION: 10/10
Analysis: Voice Acting 3/3, Music Themes 4/4, Sound Effects 3/3
STORY SECTION: 6/10
Analysis: Premise 2/2, Pacing 1/2, Complexity 1/2, Plausibility 1/2, Conclusion 1/2
CHARACTER SECTION: 4/10
Analysis: Presence 1/2, Personality 1/2, Backdrop 1/2, Development 0/2, Catharsis 1/2
VALUE SECTION: 4/10
Analysis: Historical Value 1/3, Rewatchability 1/3, Memorability 2/4
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 3/10