(Walt Disney Company) It’s commonly accepted, among the film literate, that this is the year of living in the past.
What else could it be? The frontrunner for Best Picture is a silent movie, for crying out loud (or not crying out loud, as the case may be). Other than The Artist, some of the best films of last year dealt with looking backward. Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris took audiences to 1920s Paris, Beginners reflected on a man’s relationship with his father, and The Help explored an era we prefer not to think about.
Can flagpole-sitting and the Charleston be far behind? While the conventional wisdom has reached this conclusion, the conventional wisdom has not reached a conclusion on the wisdom of eating a bowl of sugary yesteryear for breakfast every morning. Is this a healthy re-visitation of tradition, or a cowardly retreat into the soft womb of the past?
I tend toward the old-fashioned. It took me forever to get a cell phone. I don’t have a tablet. While I’m a defender of well-made chaos cinema, when it comes to animation, I have recently stated my orientation toward things past. The answer to the previously stated question can be found while watching the often-brilliant Secret World of Arrietty. Revisiting the past is most worthwhile when recovering lost values that deserve an awakening.
Written and “supervised” by the Japanese animation master Hayao Miyazaki (based on Mary Norton’s children’s stories The Borrowers), The Secret World of Arrietty is practically made of watercolors in an age of computer generation. The figures are well-drawn, but the film doesn’t shy away from asking you to use your imagination to complete the picture. And there are no over-caffeinated pet raccoons to “entertain” us every time the beat slows down.
So much of animation today resembles loud action movie principles – over-talking, breakneck pace, exaggeratedly intense motion... It’s also geared toward creating an environment that blurs the line between fiction and reality. The gentle human scale of Arrietty – a spirited teenage girl the size of a blade of grass who lives underneath a house – reinvigorates the values of older generations of animation – imagination, humanity, and the art of the paper and pen.
The genius of Arrietty is that, by shrinking its heroine to the size of a finger, it turns the familiarity of a common home into a landscape of danger and adventure. Rats and insects become predators. A common cat becomes an alien. And moving around a kitchen has the impact of landing on the moon. Arrietty takes common things and rediscovers them as immense. And so are the first hints of romantic feeling, as Arrietty forms a friendship with a sickly boy who moves into the house above.
Richly animated and extraordinarily simple, The Secret World of Arrietty takes a childlike spin on the recent surge of nostalgia. Remember, every once in a while, Hollywood does make movies for the little people.
For Fans Of: Spirited Away, Ponyo, Howl’s Moving Castle, Princess Mononoke
Why We Like It: Japanese animation, grand story, nostalgia, Hiromasa Yonebayashi, Hayao Miyazaki
Walt Disney Company's 'The Secret World of Arrietty' is released in theaters February 17, 2012.