Studio Ghibli is probably tied with Pixar for the title of Best Movie Studio for Kids in the World. My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Ponyo, Princess Mononoke… the list of awesome movies goes on and on. Pom Poko kind of fell short, but it’s still about a billion times better than a Barbie Movie or Bee Story or something. The genius behind much of this greatness is a man named Hayao Miyazaki. If you don’t know who he is, click his name and educate yourself, son.
Studio Ghibli is synonymous with quality, superb art, fantastic stories and writing, and sheer beauty. The stories are moving and mysterious and gorgeous and sincere as all get out. GUSH. So when I found out there was a new Studio Ghibli film out, based on the classic Mary Norton novel The Borrowers, I had to bring Stella to see it. A fresh, new Studio Ghibli film on the glory of the big screen is a rare and wonderful thing. Mastermind Miyazaki was not directing in this case, but he wrote the screenplay and oversaw production. And it’s not screening in 3-D, anywhere. Miyazaki is no greedy bandwagon-jumper.
So I huddled in the darkness, feeding Stella popcorn and surreptitiously taking bad photos of the screen, which I now present for your edification.
OK, now here is the short version of the review, for those people who can’t deal with a good juicy spoiler. The movie is wicked, wicked good. In fact, it is awesome. Go see it at an HD/digital theatre if you can. Buy it on Blu-Ray, when it comes out. Spoiler haters can stop reading now.
We went to the charmingly named Regal Hollywood 24 @ North I-85 in Marietta, Georgia. It was quite nice. I wish I had taken pictures of the cinema itself. Sweet retro look from the outside, glass room fill of whirring hard drives with crispy-clear digital movies on em, great picture, great sound, not a lot of people at the Saturday matinee. The staff of friendly, efficient teenagers who work there stood in pleasantly stark contrast to the attitude laden, eye-rolling, sullen teens who seem to staff the cinemas of Boston. They also didn’t care that I was taking pictures. I am glad I moved for weird reasons.
The story revolves around a young Borrower named Arrietty, and her parents. Borrowers are miniature people who borrow items from humans – or ‘Beans’ – in order to survive. Thimbles, flashlight bulbs, pins, stuff like that. These little things, inconsequential to Beans, become essentially useful and prized items in the skilled little hands of The Borrowers. These little guys (and dolls) are like sweet, charming Navy Seal ninjas who are totally brave and resourceful as they rappel around the house in search of bits of food and these little items to borrow. They don’t have any evident magic, despite their magical-seeming stature. They are simply awesome enough to survive unseen on their wits, skills and ingenuity. But their survival is endangered by encroaching Bean curiosity and cynicism. They have knowledge of only a few other Borrowers, and they are isolated, living in fear of discovery.
Everything is writ large in this film- we fully inhabit the XL world from the Borrowers XS perspective. Sounds like rustling leaves or a crunch of gravel are massive. A human hand brushing fabric is delightfully loud. Detail of things like wood grain or the texture of something like a broken flowerpot is huge with detail, just as a Borrower would see it. Drops of water are massive globs- one or two will fill a Borrower’s cup. The formidable cooking fire in Arrietty’s kitchen is a tiny pilot light. The physics and weight of bouncing leaves is perfect. Details are packed into the movie, and they are incredibly charming. The score enhances all this with a quaint, pretty, Celtic-esque sound, which fits perfectly with the homey vibe.
A young man comes to the house where Arrietty’s family lives- it is his grandmother’s house, he’s there to relax before heart surgery, and eventually we find out he’s probably going to die from his condition. When he catches a glimpse of Arrietty, both their lives are changed. Her family will need undertake a dangerous relocation, to preserve their secrecy and safety. He learns lessons of bravery in the face of the certain extinction they both face.
In these films there is often a lovely, almost unspoken childlike romance present, and there is no exception here. I guess size doesn’t really matter. Earlier I mentioned Bee Movie, that horrid Seinfeld vehicle where the stupid bee falls in stupid love with a stupid human woman. It makes you sick to watch it. This romance is just as unlikely, but it doesn’t insult your intelligence. Watching the almost heartbreakingly sweet platonic love of Sean and Arrietty develop makes you kind of want to cry. In a good way.
Of course, there is a bad guy- a mean nannny/servant/housekeeper is on the trail of the Little People and really wants to… I don’t know, exactly. Out them. Capture them. Sell them to The Carnival. She finally finds the hidden lair under the floorboards, captures Arrietty’s mom, locks Sean in his room, calls the exterminator, and acts like a total jerk in general. So, Arrietty must use her formidable Borrower talents, and also learn to trust a Bean, in order to rescue her moms.
Also, there is this Aboriginal type little Borrower dude. He’s kinda cool. He eats grasshopper legs like drumsticks. And by the end, he’s hitting on Arrietty too, in his chill Aboriginal kind of way. That’s cool. It wouldn’t have worked out with Sean anyway.
I will freely admit, I am a convert already. But from the second this film began I was hooked. The sunshine drenched garden of the magical old house took my breath away from the start, and when I caught my own initial glimpse of Arrietty, my heart was in my throat. I had a tear in my eye and I was overwhelmed with emotion as I entered another one of Miyazaki’s beautiful and amazing worlds for the first time.
All in all, this is another grand slam home run for Ghibli and Miyazaki. Well worth the $10, and a worthy addition to a substantial canon. TAKE MY MONEY, STUDIO GHIBLI!