When small is beautiful
First up, with hand on my heart, I would like to state for the record, I am not an animation fan.
When I was younger I loved Scooby Doo and the Archies—even bought the comics—but as I grew older, they lost their charm. Recently, the little people in my life, Masters Critic Eleven and scathing Critic Nine, and I have seen two animated releases—not CGI, animated—with very different reactions from them.
The first, the Aussie release, Santa's Apprentice was greeted with surprised enjoyment. Master nine even commenting he preferred it to the very polished CGI Arthur Christmas 3D. They loved Ponyo, a few years ago, and still sing the song when reminded of the movie. So, I expected they, and a friend of theirs who tagged along, would have a rollicking good time with Arrietty, the latest offering from Ghibli studios (Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle and Ponyo).
For me, it was like watching artwork brought to life on the screen. Magnificent colours and detail worked skilfully to create an absorbing world. The story, based on Mary Norton’s 1952 book, is a moving tale of a family of little people, who live under the floorboards. They exist by “borrowing” from the human beans that live in the house. In this Japanese version, the house owners are two elderly women, who are joined by a sick twelve year old nephew awaiting heart surgery.
It is a fascinating peak into the uses these little people make of items they find; a pin becomes a sword, a bay leaf lasts a year, and a sugar cube will make tea for months. Each night, the Father ventures out on successful expeditions as if were his job. Then one fateful night, when Arrietty, their young daughter, joins her Father for the first time, they are seen by the sick boy. Now difficult choices must be made and the drama really begins as Arrietty and the boy tentatively build a relationship.
It all sounds like the perfect family movie, right? But, as I was marvelling at the masterful story-telling, unfolding in the most glorious hues and detail, I detected movement from either side of me. I’ve attended enough previews with the young critics to sense the warning signs. Then it came, ‘When is it over?’ Then another voice followed, ‘How much longer? I’m hungry.’ And there was a lot of feet and chair shuffling. Not just from mine but from their friend—who isn’t a jaded movie connoisseur. They know the ‘shush’ look from me. So, we managed to survive until the end, although I kept wishing I was there on my own to appreciate this gem.
In this, though, is my warning. The children thought it was boring and I suspect children who are so accustomed to 3D in-your-face-action every second of a movie will struggle with this piece of art. It is a moving story and the gentle references to judgement of others, commentary on friendship, children prioritised behind work, will be lost on the kiddies. Plothole Critic Nine's take was they had the premise wrong. 'It's not really "borrowing" Mum. It's actually stealing."
However, the magic of the story and its rendering will not be lost on most adults. So, I recommend you take the children to the latest 3D, park them with a sitter and then slip off to watch Arrietty. These little people deserve your full attention. They are beautiful, charming and offer very valid reasons why you never find those missing bobby pins ever again.