Small mir­a­cles

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Filmreviews -

IF YOU AREN’T al­ready a hard­core fan of Stu­dio Ghi­bli an­i­ma­tions, you re­ally ought to con­sider it as a life­style choice. Even with­out their top-flight of­fer­ings – the grand, undis­puted mas­ter­pieces Spir­ited Away and My Neigh­bour To­toro – the im­print’s run-of-the-mill out­put puts ev­ery­thing else in the car­tooni­verse to shame.

Draw­ing inspiration from Mary Nor­ton’s whim­si­cal chil­dren’s clas­sic The Bor­row­ers, Ar­ri­etty builds pla­tonic, pre-teen ro­mance (a sure Ghi­bli tell) from the no­tion of lit­tle peo­ple liv­ing un­der the floor­boards. 12-year-old Shô has ar­rived at the house his mother grew up in when he en­coun­ters the tiny tit­u­lar hero­ine. Ar­ri­etty, a 10cm-tall “bor­rower”, lives with her equally diminu­tive par­ents on the teeny scraps that hu­mans leave be­hind and is given ex­pres­sion by Ir­ish ac­tor Saoirse Ro­nan.

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Shô, a del­i­cate boy await­ing risky heart surgery, de­ter­mines to be­friend the wee folk. But his great aunt Sadako’s maid has other ideas and promptly calls in pest con­trol. Can Ar­ri­etty and her fam­ily make good their es­cape? And is there any­where left for them to go?

Ar­ri­etty stands out as Ghi­bli’s most bit­ter­sweet de­light since the atomic child­hood ex­plored in Grave of the Fire­flies. Se­date where last year’s Ponyo was bouncy and up­beat, Ar­ri­etty dis­tils its source ma­te­rial into af­fect­ing min­i­mal­ist drama. If it weren’t for the lush pas­torals (stu­dio artists typ­i­cally spend months sketch­ing from life) it might be mis­taken for a Bres­son pic­ture.

The pretty vi­su­als work to ex­tend the fan­tasy and squish the di­men­sions; sugar cubes are heavy-medicine-ball-sized lux­u­ries; pins dou­ble as sabres; a crow is big­ger than a dragon and the mer­est drop of liq­uid fills the hearti­est ves­sel.

But will 2011’s only fam­ily en­ter­tain­ment to fea­ture a score from Bre­tonne harper Cé­cile Cor­bel ap­peal to chil­dren? The $126,368,084 box of­fice tally from Ja­pan says “yes”.

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