Dr. Slump: The Great Race Around the World (1983)

More for the sake of completeness and posterity than analysis, this morning, we watched the ridiculous third Dr. Slump feature, a 50-minute story released in 1983 called The Great Race Around the World. Honestly, I didn’t think that it was a patch on the sublime and hysterical Space Adventure, but our son ate it up and laughed like a hyena all the way through it, so what do I know?

I like how it takes just enough elements from media you’ve seen before and gives them all an irreverent and immature Slump spin. In this one, the princess of the nearby Radial Kingdom doesn’t want to be forced to marry the winner of an around-the-world Great Race, so she tries to enter it herself. The king shoots her down, but since she’s the spitting image of Penguin Village’s school teacher, she can do a switcheroo. Meanwhile, the space villain Dr. Mashirito is in town to compete, and since Senbei and Arale’s car has been feeling suicidally depressed lately, they figure winning a big race would give him some needed confidence. There are certainly a few good gags, but the kid loved it more than I did, which is how it should be. He still hasn’t embraced the original Slump comic series, but we’re going out this afternoon; I’ll try dropping a collection in the back seat and see whether the darn child won’t finally take the bait.

Mary and the Witch’s Flower (2017)

I suspect that the question “will there always be a Ghibli” keeps some people up at night. After all, Isao Takahata has passed away, and Miyazaki is working on what must surely be his final movie, unless of course he un-retires again after it so that some other people can make more documentaries about him. Hiromasa Yonebayashi must have once been seen as the hope of a new generation. 2010’s Secret World of Arrietty had been successful and promising, but then he went and co-founded another studio, called Ponoc, after his second Ghibli feature.

And what he took with him, I was disappointed to see, was basically a great big box of Ghibli tricks. Mary and the Witch’s Flower is basically what happens when you throw Totoro, Kiki, and Laputa in a blender and make the inside of Hogwarts from the Harry Potter movies look like Howl’s Moving Castle. When Mary tries mastering her broomstick, our son quietly said “This looks a lot like Kiki.” Visually, there’s not a single surprise in this movie, and the same goes for the script.

Ehhh, the kid was pleased. This is just a simple family adventure movie by the numbers, so just right for elementary and middle school-aged audiences. Strong teen girl protagonist, relative with a secret, magical world just on the other side of reality, danger that threatens our world, villains who talk too much, annoying boy who needs rescuing, merchandise-friendly animal familiar, you’ve seen it all before, although possibly not animated quite as well as this. It certainly looks like they spent millions on it to make it move and breathe with clarity, but the story’s so slight that I don’t imagine that our son will be in a big hurry to revisit it, or remember it very much down the line, when all the movies that are in this one’s DNA are crying out to be rewatched again instead.

On the other hand, I’ve got Howl’s Moving Castle on the calendar for the spring. Who knows, when we watch it, he may just quietly say “This looks a lot like Mary.”

Napoleon’s Dictionary (1991)

I enjoyed revisiting Lupin III by way of a couple of his feature films so much that I decided to pick up a few more of his cases. About every year, there’s a made-for-TV special. 1991’s Napoleon’s Dictonary was the third of 28 and counting in this series. It’s entertaining, but also very, very flawed. Even understanding that something made for television is naturally going to have a smaller budget than a big-screen film, this was still a big surprise to me. Slapdash animation, poor modelling, and downright indifferent direction all conspire to almost ruin this story. There’s a bit where two trains are about to collide in a tunnel, crushing a police car between them, which should have been the funniest thing in the whole movie, but it falls so flat that I wondered whether they even storyboarded the thing or if it just happened by accident.

Another weird flaw: it’s a given that Goemon is the greatest swordsman who ever lived and his sword can cut through anything. This is the sort of thing you need to deploy very sparingly, so it has maximum effect. For example, the actual funniest thing in the whole movie is this: Lupin and Jigen are locked in an RV by some CIA agents and they’re grumbling that the only thing American vehicles are any good for is their sturdiness, at which point Goemon cuts the RV in half. But by the end of the movie, Goemon has cut everything in half without challenge. He stops being a comic time bomb and turns into Superman. Goemon should never, ever be boring, but that’s what this movie makes him.

Despite this, the story does have a few very funny gags, and I liked the very real-world setting. It’s 1991, the Gulf War has just finished, and now the G7 nations are in a recession because they’ve all been nearly bankrupted by their Middle East misadventures and unemployment is high. The member nations start leaning on Japan – again – to buy their way out of this, until somebody points out that Lupin’s grandfather somehow buried a fortune worth about $200 billion, and so they should probably finally arrest the pest and impound the loot for themselves.

Meanwhile, Lupin’s also aware of this story, but he doesn’t know where the treasure is. He knows where there’s a clue: Napoleon Bonaparte once had a dictionary that passed into the family hands, and somebody wrote some details on a page, but the dictionary vanished years ago. Now it has resurfaced: it’s the prize in a Great Race, using antique cars to motor from Madrid to Paris. And Lupin just happened to snatch a 1908 Packard in New York City. Lupin’s stated reason why he wants the dictionary has nothing to do with a fortune, is a great big lie, and is the second funniest thing in the whole movie.

It’s a good setup and there are some fine gags, but overall I was still underwhelmed. As I mentioned in these pages previously, as much as I like the characters, I haven’t seen a whole lot of their outings – looks like I’ve seen three features, five or six TV episodes, and two of the TV specials before this – but this is the weakest installment that I’ve seen so far. When it worked, it worked very well, and our son absolutely loves Lupin and Zenigata’s eternal game of cat-and-mouse. When it didn’t, it was crying for a new animation studio to take over, and a different director to make this script sparkle. Still, they can’t all be winners, and we’ll look at another TV special soon.

Arcadia of My Youth (1982)

Last summer, we sat down to watch Horus, Prince of the Sun and I was pleasantly surprised to learn that my old pal Mike Toole had done a commentary track for Discotek’s release, so I got to pop back and watch it again the following week to hear that. This morning, I learned that Mike’s also got a commentary track on 1982’s Arcadia of My Youth, which I haven’t seen in about thirty years. Reckon I’ll be watching it again next week!

We used to call the movie My Youth in Arcadia. It’s the origin story of Captain Harlock, a space pirate who gives no quarter to Earth’s enemies and who occasionally appears in TV series and makes cameo appearances in other series created by Leiji Matsumoto. It’s one of those movies that I used to enjoy very much and watched a dozen or so times in three or four years and then didn’t need to see it again for decades, until I had a kid who needs space battleship action.

Whatever you call it, it’s a very, very good film, albeit one I’ve always felt is simultaneously a little long while also calling out for a little more space and explanations. It was directed by Tomoharu Katsumata, who did a lot of animated films and TV series for Toei in the period, and the earthbound material in the first half has a weird pace to me; it seems like far too much happens offscreen in what is depicted as only minutes between incidents. Throughout, there’s the recurring theme of a pirate radio broadcaster, the Voice of Free Arcadia, giving hope to the people of Earth as the population suffers under alien occupation.

Fortunately, the main villain is one of those awesome baddies who believes very strongly in honor. As Harlock and his allies start working together and gathering strength, he gives him enough rope to lead to a really brilliant climax. And along the way, there are massive casualties among the supporting cast and grievous wounds to carry. Like many other Matsumoto stories, this is very much science fantasy and magic despite all the hardware and tech. At one point, the last survivors of a dead race sacrifice themselves to a fiery space witch that pulls down the life essence of travelers in her sector of the cosmos, which doesn’t make much sense, but gives the story grim purpose.

The kid was restless in places, but once Harlock, Tochiro, and their allies leave Earth in their big green flying battleship, he was on the edge of his seat, and that brilliant conclusion I mentioned had him wide-eyed and laughing in excitement. I told him this movie would have space battleships blowing everything up and it delivers. I love how the spaceships of the 30th Century are designed with windows for the captains to salute each other before pivoting around for broadsides.

Anyway, the kid had a complete ball and was swept away in the end. Just as casual as you like, I pointed out that they made a follow-up 22-episode TV series with the characters, and he wants me to order that as well. This darn blog’s gonna break me, I tell you.

The Mystery of Mamo (1978)

It has been an extremely long time since I’d watched the first Lupin III feature film. It’s been such a long time that it’s been dubbed three more times since the one I remember. And I remembered the immortal lines “Only a laser beam can cut through my vest” and “Once again, I cut a worthless object,” but I completely forgot all the cartoon nudity. “Oh, yeah, so there’s some nude scenes in this,” I said, sheepishly, as our favorite nine year-old critic raised an eyebrow.

But there’s also the usual chaos and chase scenes. It’s a very weird movie in that regard. Some of the shenanigans look like they’re being played for high comedy but have a serious and deadly edge. It’s most evident in a scene where the villains send a helicopter to attack our heroes in a Parisian cafe. It’s the sort of overkill that’s funny because it’s so ridiculous, and indeed our son was roaring with laughter, while innocent bystanders are clearly not avoiding the bullets. It wouldn’t have been funny at all if they’d pulled up in a van. Bringing a helicopter is silly, which prompts laughing, and the subsequent murders are serious. Our heroes are up against one of the most cold-blooded villains they’ve ever faced.

The Mystery of Mamo was released in Japan as simply Lupin III, but American fans started calling it The Mystery of Mamo to match the alliteration of the second film, The Castle of Cagliostro, which we watched in the spring. The name stuck, even though it’s not accurate and “Mameaux” is misspelled. It is one of a small handful of movies directed by Sōji Yoshikawa and it’s a lot more faithful to the lecherous spirit and gangly style of the original comics by Monkey Punch than all the movies that followed.

As for the plot, it’s in a class by itself. The original dub – more on that in a second – isn’t very clear on this point, but Lupin gets word that he’s been executed and DNA testing has proved that the body was his. Zenigata, the Interpol inspector obsessed with Lupin’s capture, doesn’t believe it either. This puts the adversaries at odds again while Lupin starts targeting treasures believed to grant immortality. The trail of clones and eternal life leads them to a stunted, absurdly resourceful, and rich villain called Mamo, who claims to be 10,000 years old. Lupin III’s adventures are usually a little bit more down to earth than this.

Mamo has been released in North America several times by different companies, resulting in four separate English-language dubs. Discotek Media compiled all four, along with the original Japanese language track with subtitles, on a DVD released in 2013. Honestly, I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as I remembered. I think I was wrong to choose the original dub that I was familiar with once upon a time. It is said, by people who know these things, to be a good and accurate translation, but it feels incredibly clunky and confusing, and the voice actress for Fujiko sounds too much like a helpless damsel in distress. But the kid still prefers dubs to subs, and I’d like him to be happy when we’re watching stuff together.

To be sure, there’s a lot for a kid to like here, even if his parents may have wished for a little less of Lupin dropping his pants. He absolutely loves Zenigata’s furious, single-minded obsession to arrest Lupin and just cackles at the sight of him. The slapstick violence and action is always amazing in these movies. At one point, they’re being chased up a twisty mountain road by the biggest eighteen-wheeler ever built, and at another, Goemon gives a henchman the sort of wound that even Daffy Duck would have trouble recovering from, so he was in heaven.

So you wouldn’t expect Dr. Anti-Fun, who we met last month complaining about the physics in an episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures, would start grumbling, but at the end, the villain reveals a rocket with a dome instead of a cone top and he just had to interject “that wouldn’t fly!” Well, it wouldn’t hold a brain the size of a ranch house, either, Dr. Anti-Fun, so just hush and go with it. Kids!

Dr. Slump: Space Adventure (1982)

A few months ago, when we watched the first of the Dr. Slump films, I talked at length about how I firmly believe every home with under-tens should have a stack of the books and whatever cartoons you can find. The comics still haven’t tempted our son, but he was thrilled when I told him we were watching the second of the Slump movies this weekend. 1982’s Space Adventure is the only feature-length film of the eleven theatrical releases – all of the others are under an hour – and while the first one is grandly funny, this one is next-level. He and I laughed our freaking heads off.

Space Adventure is a goofy lampoon of all the sci-fi stuff that was really popular in Japan in 1982 – Star Wars, Yamato, Mobile Suit Gundam – and introduces a nefarious villain named Dr. Mashirito who’s the spitting image of Queen’s guitarist Brian May. The fiend, who makes his entrance singing his own theme song, has abducted Penguin Village’s beautiful teacher. Our heroes blast into space to track her down. Along the way, they deal with the fact that Dr. Senbei forgot to include toilets on his spaceship, battle a space armada of robot bug ships, and flick boogers through cameras to land on the person on the other end, which just about made me stop breathing.

Either you get this lunatic brilliance or you don’t, and for whatever reason, my wife’s one of the ones who don’t. So she retreated to the bedroom to have a video chat with some nerdy girlfriends, and I swear I didn’t intend to interrupt her, but in round one of Arale’s big battle with Dr. Mashirito’s giant needle-nosed robot, they end up knocking each other through and around a moon and the kid and I were howling so loudly that one of my wife’s pals suggested she needs to check this show out. I didn’t think that I had a lot to write this morning, but I’ll say mission accomplished and think all you readers should follow her example. Bye-cha!

The Castle of Cagliostro (1979)

So for those of you who don’t know, Lupin III is the world’s greatest thief, and in The Castle of Cagliostro, he and his gun-totin’ buddy Jigen decide it’s time to do something about an international counterfeit operation that’s been going on for decades. They get involved with a runaway bride in a tiny European country and are in for the fight of their lives. I told our son that there would be hijinx and he said “Good. I love hijinx.” He found the experience completely satisfying.

Because it was directed by Hayao Miyazaki, Cagliostro is probably most Americans’ first introduction to Lupin III. Some people have a tendency to want a starting point when they’re looking at a big media franchise, and Lupin, with a couple of hundred TV episodes and close to thirty films, is a pretty big one. Nobody ever asks where they should start with James Bond or Law & Order, though, do they? I wonder why that is.

Anyway, I’m far from an expert on the subject. I’ve probably only watched a combined ten hours of Lupin myself, and I don’t like the original comics by Monkey Punch at all. I like the heroic Lupin of Cagliostro; I think that the previous movie, Mystery of Mamo, which we’ll watch later this summer, might be the better of the two, but I like seeing Lupin not being a thief and a creep for long enough to play Robin Hood and save the first decent member of a centuries-old crime family.

I gave our son a quick potted history of the gentleman thief trope, and how the original character of Arsène Lupin was created by Maurice Leblanc in the 1900s, amid a wave of similar characters created by Simon Boothby and EW Hornung. In the 1960s, the trope resurfaced in film and TV (The Pink Panther, Topkapi, It Takes a Thief), and Monkey Punch seemed to create his comics as a reaction to those. Punch’s thief was well-dressed, but certainly no gentleman. His Lupin III, allegedly the grandson of Leblanc’s original, was a protagonist but not a hero. He got toned down massively for television, and tamed further still for some of the features.

So while Cagliostro might be the tamest version of them all – it certainly has that reputation, anyway – it’s still a hugely fun ride, full of car chases and underwater brawls, slapstick violence and real bullets, intricate schemes and hilarious improvisations. Everybody enjoyed the movie hugely and I’m looking forward to the next couple of films that we’ll see later in the year.

Dr. Slump: Hello! Wonder Island (1981)

About six months ago, I had one of the biggest parenting surprises I have ever had. Our son was looking for something new to read, and I handed him the first volume of Akira Toriyama’s epic of slapstick and toilet humor, Dr. Slump. When they were around his age, his older brother and sister loved it. I have long advocated for every home in America with under-tens to have at least the first eight volumes in stock. Like many comics from every nation and every genre, Dr. Slump ran far longer than it should have – weekly for five years in this case – and the law of diminishing returns set in around its halfway point, but those first eight collections are solid gold. When it comes to comics, every under-ten should have free and clear access to Peanuts, Mad, Melvin Monster, and Dr. Slump.

I didn’t hear a chuckle from upstairs. This comic has a super-powerful robot girl named Arale causing absolute chaos while running around with poop on a stick. It is everything this child – that any eight year-old – should want in a funnybook. However, half an hour later, he came down with a sour expression and said he couldn’t get into it. That’s cool; kids should make up their own mind. We’re just here to introduce him to old stuff, and he likes what he likes and doesn’t like what he doesn’t like. But how in creation this kid didn’t like that Dr. Slump book, I have no idea.

A few years previously, I picked up Discotek’s collection of the first five Slump movies. There was a cartoon adaptation that ran throughout the eighties on Fuji TV and spawned eleven theatrical specials. Most of these are really short and aired as additional features to longer movies or at festivals. Hello! Wonder Island is just 25 minutes long, and only one of them, the second, is longer than an hour. Discotek’s collection doesn’t have a dubbed option, so it’s been collecting dust on the shelf for a while now, waiting for him to be confident enough to read subtitles. Since, thanks to Criterion’s Godzilla set, he’s willing to read ’em, I decided this morning to strike.

Naturally, of course, he loved it. Dr. Slump is colorful, unpredictable, and absolutely ridiculous. One recurring gag in the comic is that the little community of Penguin Village is filled with muscular wanna-be superheroes and action men waiting for their moment of honor and glory, only to have some child dressed in a fox costume knock them over on her way to something funnier. This story begins with the Superman parody and the Tarzan parody yelling in each other’s face about whether the movie should be about them, and those little gears in our kid’s head finally clicked into place and he understood how gloriously absurd this is.

Maybe it also helped that I drew some comparisons to other media that he already loves. Senbei’s utter inability to land a date with anybody is not unlike Jon from Garfield and his endless wacky inventions might remind him of Wallace from Wallace & Gromit. That said, some cultural differences between the US and Japan mean that there’s probably a thing or two that some American parents might find shocking. Senbei routinely cusses a blue streak and keeps a stash of girlie magazines, and Arale routinely mocks him with a chant of “Pervert, pervert!”

But is this for under-tens anyway? Yes, absolutely. A vampire bites Senbei and Arale bites the vampire right back, she picks up fire-breathing dragons, and she smacks demon lords in the shin with gigantic bats. Even the little aliens who look like butts and are stuck on Earth make a short appearance. This is glorious, goofy comedy for kids and he had a ball. I told him we’ll watch the next one in a couple of months.

And who knows, he might give the comic another try as well. Stranger things have happened!

Galaxy Express 999 (1979)

Galaxy Express is a weird, strange and really entertaining film from a period of animation that I look at with a lot of nostalgia. I’ve mentioned here before that there were a heck of a lot of interesting animated movies hitting the big screen from around 1977-83, from studios in Japan, the US, and the UK, and Express is a perfect example from that period. Directed by Rintaro from a storyline by Leiji Matsumoto, the movie is a retelling of key elements from a much longer television series, itself an adaptation of a weekly comic written and drawn by Matsumoto and his studio. The theatrical version actually wrapped up its version of the narrative about two years before the TV show reached its climax in a quite different way, so there are a few versions of the story, depending on how audiences chose to view it.

In the world of Galaxy Express, most of the planets and moons have been colonized, and humans who want to live forever can trade in their humanity for mechanical bodies. These are available for free on a distant planet, and that’s where our pre-teen hero wants to go. Years before, his mother had been murdered by the villain Count Mecha, and this tough kid, named Tetsuro, wants revenge. A mechanical body might give him the upper hand, but at what cost?

Unfortunately, the body might be free, but getting to the planet is something only the wealthiest can afford: by purchasing a ticket on a space-faring ship called the Galaxy Express that looks like an old-fashioned steam engine. A mysterious and beautiful woman named Maetel helps Tetsuro get a ticket, and seems like she’s on his side, but she keeps her secrets, and Tetsuro is warned to not trust her.

I enjoy Galaxy Express for lots of reasons, but one that shined this morning is that this may sound like a science fiction story, but it’s really more of a fairy tale than anything else. Incredibly strange things happen in this movie, and they’re explained with poetry, not with science. At one point, approaching the planet Pluto, the temperature inside the train drops. This isn’t because of a problem with the heating or because it’s Pluto, and therefore cold, but because Maetel reasons that this part of space is haunted by the souls of all those who died trying to get here. It isn’t rational, but it isn’t meant to be. It’s an explanation from a bedtime story and it’s lovely. And then there’s the way that absolutely nobody knows where Count Mecha’s Time Castle will materialize next, except for the only people that Tetsuro asks about it.

Our son continued his habit of being entertained and amused by the oddest things. He especially liked Count Mecha’s castle, which has room for “ten trillion games of hide and seek” and which the count decorates by leaving piles of skulls on the staircases. There are all of the trappings for an adventure movie for kids, right down to a bridge way, way above the ground that disintegrates once Tetsuro races back across it. Supporting our heroes in this story are two other Matsumoto characters from his interconnected stories: Captain Harlock and Emeraldas. They help out in the great big space battle at the end, which is the sort of billion-explosion spectacle that live action movies just couldn’t do in 1979, and our son was in seventh heaven. He said he liked the characters just fine, which is good, because he might just see ’em again a time or two.

Galaxy Express is a film that’s looked better and better to me over the years. Back in the mid-eighties, I got to know it through nth-gen bootleg copies. One of Roger Corman’s companies released an incoherently-edited dubbed copy that chopped out almost a quarter of the movie, Tetsuro was renamed something like Joey Hana-canana-be-bi-bo-fana Smith, and the guy doing Captain Harlock’s voice spoke like the talking cowboy hat in Lidsville. A little later, somebody found a subtitled copy, but the copy was so far down from the source material all that I could hear on mine was tape hiss. Viz Media put out a new dub on VHS in the mid-1990s. My own tape was sold or traded or snatched or lost years ago. I upgraded to Discotek’s DVD recently, and their Blu-ray’s said to be even better. If you’ve got anybody aged eight to thirteen in your house, I’d say this film’s a must. Grownup viewers might grumble at the strange science, but kids understand magic a little better and they’ll probably like this movie a lot.

Additional readin’: Check out Dave’s report at Let’s Anime from a few years back. You watch this film at home and you’ll wish you could’ve seen it on a big screen in Toronto with him!

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013)

Here’s an example of the real world interfering with the experience of watching a movie, and I think that’s okay to report that, because this is a blog about experiences and not a review blog. I had been looking forward to seeing Isao Takahata’s final film, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, for most of the year. It’s the last in this year’s Ghiblifest from Fathom Events, and if you missed it last evening, you can see it subtitled in many cities on December 18.

But then, you’ll notice the blog went dormant for a few days earlier this month. That’s because I had surgery on my spine. Since returning from the hospital, we haven’t all three been curled up on the sofa watching things together. Marie and our son have been curled up on the sofa, while I’ve been sitting up straight in a fairly comfortable chair, squirming because, after half an hour or so, it isn’t comfortable enough. And The Tale of the Princess Kaguya isn’t a short film, it’s nearly two and a half hours long. Two and a half beautiful hours, mind you – the film’s design deliberately evokes the picture scrolls where folk tales in Japan unrolled a thousand years ago, with expanses of white skies, careful drops of color for the leaves, and delicate, intricate linework for the figures – but that’s a long time for a fellow with little steel rods in his back to sit still.

With a palette and look that’s unlike any other movie in Ghibli’s library, Kaguya is an unusual standout that doesn’t seem to attract the attention of that studio’s American fans. Every other Fathom Events screening that we’ve attended, even of other Takahata films, drew a far bigger crowd than this did last night. The big names sell out, and even Arrietty was about two-thirds full. Last night it was just us and a group of about eight guys and girls in their twenties. What a shame; I hope more people see it tomorrow night, because it’s a beautiful experience.

The movie is an adaptation of a classic folk tale. An old bamboo cutter finds a tiny, doll-sized girl dressed as a princess inside a stalk. She turns into a human baby, growing very fast, and a second visit to the forest gives the old man gold and beautiful robes. He believes that whatever spirit brought them this child wants the couple to raise her as royalty. So he buys a mansion in the capital and hires servants to train her in the formality of proper behavior. When she comes of age, she is given the name “Kaguya” and attracts wealthy, noble suitors. But nobody asked her what she herself wants, or where she came from, or how long she’ll be staying on Earth.

Well, I completely loved it. I think it’s a gorgeous film and I love the way the style and the speed of the editing changes so radically at key points. It’s a classic fairy tale with an inevitable end, and so spending two and a half hours in the company of kind-hearted people with good intentions, rather than the five minutes it might take to just tell the story, means that the ending is very depressing despite its honesty and beauty. Our son thought it was extremely sad and it left him in low spirits for a while, but some occasional light gags and mild comedy kept his attention even though this experience was a little outside his wheelhouse.

And you’ll be glad to know that I was all kinds of sore but I made it out of the comfy Regal seat all right. We’ll go back to the same theater in a week and I’ll be in even better shape next time.

Image credit: Film Ireland

The Secret World of Arrietty (2010)

Fathom Events usually has three screenings of the Studio Ghibli films that they present: the first and last are dubbed and the middle one is subtitled. We always go to a dubbed showing because our son reads very slowly. But this time, they made a mistake and started the subtitled edition of 2010’s The Secret World of Arrietty. We shrugged; just have to deal with it. About eight minutes in, somebody had alerted somebody to the mistake, and after a short pause, they started over with the right print.

Our kid grinned. Within those first eight minutes, we get to see a big, fat, lazy cat chase off a pestering crow and charge, unsuccessfully, at our tiny young heroine, a teenage “borrower” who is just a couple of inches tall and lives under a house. He leaned over and quietly said “Good! I wanted to see that cat twice!”

The film is an adaptation of Mary Norton’s novel for children The Borrowers. It’s been adapted before, but live-action versions can’t linger on the beauty of gigantic green gardens that look like jungles, with rain drops forming huge crystalline globes that catch the light. It’s a world where some insects are menaces and pests, and some, like roly-poly pillbugs, are just little distractions that you bounce on your knee.

Borrowers are tiny little people who try to live by a creed to only take what they need from the world of human beans. Arrietty lives with her parents Pod and Homily inside an old house in the country with just one elderly caretaker. There have been stories about little people in the walls and under the floor for many years, but nobody really believed them. Arrietty has turned fourteen and it’s time for her to make her first borrowing expedition, but there’s a strange new complication: a teenage boy with a heart condition has come to recuperate at the house for a week, and he doesn’t seem to follow any of the borrowers’ expectations about human beans.

Arrietty was the first film directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, who’s since made a couple of other movies that I’d quite like to see. It was a big hit when it was released, though I confess I wasn’t paying much attention to the genre in the early 2010s and its impact missed me entirely. It’s a beautifully animated film with some fun characters and big surprises. All three of us enjoyed it very much, and I probably need to pick up a copy for the shelf sometime.

Image credits: Entropy Mag.