ARIETTY. Animation film voiced by Saoirse Ronan, Tom Holland and Olivia Colman.Directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi. 94 mins. Rated G.

‘Charming’ is probably the most apt word to describe this Japanese animation film.  It is probably the most useful as well.  It is not a film for those who find charming uninteresting or distasteful.

Arietty is one of the little people, one of The Borrowers (from the novel by Mary Norton), a member of the Clock Family who live in the corners and spaces in an old house.  They seem to be the lone survivors, not knowing any more Borrowers, and with a strict code not to be seen by humans.  (There was a live action version of The Borrowers in the 1990s with John Goodman.)

When Arietty is out one day, Sho, a little boy who is resting at his grandmother’s before an operation, glimpses her.  This creates confusion for the Borrowers, some upheaval in the house, especially from the ill-tempered maid who wants to call in exterminators.

While the idea might seem more than a little fey or twee, the charm carries it along.  Arietty is no wallflower.  She is very active, admired by her father, worried about by her mother – who is captured in a bottle by the maid and imprisoned in a cupboard which requires Arietty to use her brains and her skill to rescue her.  In the meantime, the friendship between Arietty and Sho develops quite sweetly after initial suspicions.

This is Japanese animation.  In the last decade, these animators have produced beautifully drawn films (rather than rely on computergraphics) including Oscar-winner, Spirited Away.  Interestingly, they have taken on a number of British stories, Steam Boy, How’s Moving Castle. The director is Hiromasa Yonebayashi in his first film in this capacity.  He worked as an animator on Spirited Away and Howl and was assistant to their director, Hayao Miyazaki, for Ponyo.  His work is certainly in that tradition.

With all respect to American dubbing and the casts (Amy Poehler, Will Arnett and Carol Burnett), the version under review is the British dubbed version with such excellent actors like Saiorse Ronan as Arietty, Tom Holland as Sho, Mark Strong as her father,  with Olivia Colman, Geraldine McEwan and Phyllida Law.

As said before, charming.

Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.

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