I am, and have been a fan of Disney’s style of animation for as long as I can remember. The way the characters came alive every time I saw them was a direct result of the execution of the 4 ingredients that make up the perfect recipe for top-shelf animation: 1) Superior Storytelling 2) Amazing Animation 3) Unforgettable Soundtrack 4) Astounding Voice Talent
Disney has always, in my opinion, been quite adept at mixing the 4 key ingredients to make flawless animation classics. Whereas others have copied the Disney style of animation or their fashion of storytelling, nobody has done it as consistently well as the House Of Mouse. That’s why so very few efforts from other studios have that feel of timelessness that so many features from Walt and Company do. . . .
As a Disney purist, I typically only allow myself to enjoy the product offerings that come from Disney directly. As such, forays into cross-promotions like the yet-to-be-realized Avatarland (based on a movie I thoroughly enjoyed) or partnerships with others such as Walden Media (Chronicles Of Narnia series) have been met with apathy where I’ve been concerned. Notwithstanding, I found myself pulled to watch an animated feature which was not from Disney itself, but was a distribution partnership with another studio.
You’ve probably guessed it already by the picture above, but the movie was “Secret World Of Arrietty” from the animation geniuses at Studio Ghibli in Japan, makers of Castle In The Sky, Spirited Away and Ponyo. After I made the decision to watch the movie, I had to locate the movie itself. A friend of mine said he had it and that I was welcome to view it. With my last obstacle out of the way, I settled in and started the movie.
As the movie began, something immediately seemed amiss. The Disney castle shown at the beginning of every Disney-released film was missing. In its place was. . . .nothing. . . .the movie just began. I grabbed the case and realized that my friend from “across the pond” had loaned me his copy of “Arrietty“, not “The Secret World Of Arrietty“. What’s the difference, you ask? We’ll get to that in a bit.
Although I was disappointed that I did not have the Disney-released version, I figured the two were identical so I proceeded. My disappointment was short-lived. From the very first scene, I was swept into the world of Arrietty, Sho, Homily and Pod. I found myself forgetting that I was watching an animated movie. . . .the mark of a great animated film. I laughed at Homily’s worry-wart style; I felt sorrow for Sho when learning of his pending operation and its chances for success; I gritted my teeth at Haru’s machinations; Most of all, I became entranced with Arrietty. . . .the borrower whose innocence and spirit make this movie go. . . .small in stature but gigantic in heart. This movie had all 4 ingredients. . . .and had them in large quantities: 1) Superior Storytelling – The adapted version of Mary Norton’s classic, “The Borrowers” was a feature film just waiting to happen. 2) Amazing Animation – Pound for pound, the animation in “Arrietty” is every bit as good as (and in some ways, better) my beloved Disney. 3) Unforgettable Soundtrack – Not since James Horner’s work on “A Beautiful Mind” has a music score left me wistful and peaceful. Cecile Corbel‘s haunting score, lilting voice and deft hand at the harp are a perfect complement to the story-line and set the mood and carries the viewer on a journey all by itself. 4) Astounding Voice Talent – Saoirse Ronan, Tom Holland, Mark Strong, Olivia Colman, Phyllida Law, and Geraldine McEwan turn in performances that are subtle, powerful and communicative without being the over-the-top caricatures that American imitations have sometimes made anime voice acting out to be. Studio Ghibli has made what may be viewed as, dare I say it, the perfect animated movie.
And therein lies my disappointment.
Taken as I was with the movie and the soundtrack, I started looking around to see what the differences between the Studio Canal (UK) release that I had seen and the Walt Disney Studios (US) release that had evaded me. What I found left me feeling empty.
Bridgit Mendler was cast as Arrietty for the film’s North American release. Besides Mendler, the cast included Will Arnett, Amy Poehler, Carol Burnett, and David Henrie. While in any other venue, this would be an asset, in this case, it was a deficit. Mendler is a fine singer, but the mood set by her vocals totally takes away from the subtle and powerful tone of the film. It does not complement the movie the way that Cecile Corbel’s vocals do. While the UK cast voiced a film that was sweet, subtle and melancholy, the US cast seemed to be “phoning it in”. . . doing their best, but ultimately sounding like they were just reading the lines off the paper. . . .going through the motions. The result is that “The Secret World Of Arrietty” comes off more like a ham-handed cartoon than the true work of art that the UK and Japanese versions of “Arrietty” turned out to be. The animation was the same. . .the voice acting was different. As the title of the article says, voices matter. . . .something Disney should know already.
It’s not often that Disney drops the ball on the medium that they virtually invented and perfected, but this is one of those rare cases. If you’ve already spent the money on “The Secret World Of Arrietty”, you have my apologies. Throw it up on eBay. . . .as you can see by the link, there are plenty of them up there already. Whether you’ve spent the money or not, do yourself a favor and find it on your preferred streaming service or purchase it here. . . .you won’t be sorry.