The Secret World of Arrietty

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 a Best Picture Oscar is a silent movie for crying out loud (or not crying out loud, as the case may be). Can flagpole-sitting and the Charleston be far behind?

While the conventional wisdom has reached this conclusion, it hasn’t established what the wisdom of eating a bowl of sugary yesteryear for breakfast every morning might be. Is this a healthy revisitation 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. And I think I found an answer to the previously stated question while watching the often brilliant The 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), 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 overcaffeinated pet raccoons to entertain us every time the beat slows down.
So much of animation today resembles loud action movie principles: overtaking, 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 generation’s 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. Arriety takes common things and rediscovers them as immense. And so are the first hints of romantic feeling as Arriety forms a friendship with a sickly boy who moves into the house above.

So remember, every once in a while, Hollywood does make movies for the little people.

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