Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Secret World of Arrietty, and the nature of villainy

I like Studio Ghibli.  I like what they do, and generally make it a priority to watch whatever they come out with.  So when, by chance I saw a Disney commercial of The Secret World of Arrietty (henceforth known as Arrietty), featuring they're unmistakable art style, I was intrigued.  Known as The Borrower Arrietty in Japan, it's been around for a year or so already, and is now making its way to the states.  The movie is based on a novel of a similar name, The Borrowers.  It tells a story of small family of tiny people known as Borrowers (because they "borrow" small things like sugar cubes and pieces of tape from humans for their own use and survival), living underneath a house in secret.  When a young boy afflicted with a fatal heart condition comes to the house for a restful stay until an operation can be performed, he spots the Borrower family's sole daughter Arrietty.  This sets the story on its way.

For the most part, I enjoyed the movie.  It is very simplistic--even for a Studio Ghibli movie--and moves at an easy pace.  Despite an unsatisfying ending, I can still say I liked the movie a lot simply for the art, setting and characters.  Except for one.  The housemaid Haru, the movie's antagonist of a sort, makes for one of the most half-assed villains I've ever seen.

Haru is the human family's housemaid, and through reasons the movie fails to elaborate on, begins to suspect the presence of the Borrowers.  Later it makes amends by having her say she always suspected that they were around, when things would go missing, and she'd hear the family go on about the mythical tiny people.  When she captures Arrietty's mother and hatches a plan to have the family captured alive, I asked myself why.  Why is she bothering them?  Why does she care?  "Because they're thieves," she says?  They take the odd sugar cube.

There's a similar story in Pixar's Ratatoulle, but the difference is that the characters are mice and rats, already known to be scavengers and bringers of filth, not miniaturized human beings.

It occurred to me that a good antagonist needs a reason to do what they do.  If not a reason, an explanation.  Greed?  World domination?  Revenge?  Insanity?  You have to give me something here, some reason why you're being a douche.  "Some men just like to watch the world burn," you say?  She's an elderly housemaid, not the Joker.

All that aside however, I have to repeat that I did enjoy the movie.  Seeing the world from the Borrowers' perspective was immensely fun, and as always the colorful environments dreamed up by the studio don't disappoint.  This is ultimately just a kid's movie, so I'm probably reading into it way too much.  But even kiddy villains have something to strive for.  Something to be ambitious about.

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