The Secret World of Arrietty

February 20, 2012 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Bridgit Mendler, Will Arnett, Amy Poehler
Directed by: Hiromasa Yonebayashi (debut), Gary Rydstrom (debut)
Written by: Hayao Miyazaki (“Spirited Away”), Keiko Niwa (“Tales from Earthsea”), Karey Kirkpatrick (“The Spiderwick Chronicles”)

As impressive as computer-generated 3D animation has become in recent years, there is something still incredibly charming about hand-drawn animation. There are flaws, odd movements and static elements that all add to the experience and even inform the personality of the film. Perhaps nobody believes in hand-drawn animation more than Hayao Miyazaki (“My Neighbor Totoro,” “Spirited Away”), the man behind the beloved Studio Ghibli from Japan. After flirting with the help of computers for a short span, Miyazaki has gone back to his roots. With a screenplay penned by Miyazaki himself, Studio Ghibli continues its American partnership with Disney with “The Secret World of Arrietty,” a beautifully understated animation centered on a forbidden friendship.

Adapted from the 1952 classic novel “The Borrowers” by Mary Norton and dubbed from the original Japanese animation, “The Secret World of Arrietty” centers around the Clocks, a family of tiny people who live in the floorboards of a house and “borrow” supplies they need from humans. When 14-year-old Arrietty (Bridgit Mendler) goes on her first “borrowing” with her father Pod (Will Arnett), she gets noticed by Shawn (David Henrie), a young boy who has just moved into the house. Though it is discouraged by her father and mother (Amy Poehler), Arrietty slowly develops a friendship with Shawn, while still attempting to remain incognito to protect her family.

One of the stronger points of “The Secret World of Arrietty” is the fantastic voice acting across the board. Known mostly for her TV work on the Disney Channel, Mendler is great as the young Arrietty, particularly in vocalizing her curiosity. While the rest of the voice cast is strong, the highlight of the cast is Poehler as the constantly flustered and anxious Homily. Her overexcited inflection and screams alone provide the film with some of its funniest moments. Though dubbing foreign films over in English can sometimes cause a distracting discrepancy between mouth movement and speech, that isn’t the case in “Arrietty.”

There is an underlying sense of tranquility that weaves its way throughout “Arrietty,” a tone that is established early and reinforced especially through the stoic Pod character and the leisurely pace of the film. The scenes where we see Arrietty and her father journey through the nooks and crannies of the house are filled with mesmerizing long takes that display an environment in which the smallest items like nails or sugar cubes serve as foils in their adventures.

Although there is one monologue in the film that might be a little intense for younger kids, “The Secret World of Arrietty” is a film that is enjoyable for audiences of all ages. There are plenty of visuals and adventurous scenes to keep children invested. The film works largely in part to Miyazaki’s fantastic script filled with empathy and sentimentality, mostly for the Borrowers themselves and Shawn’s earnest desire to make friends. If nothing else, “The Secret World of Arrietty” proves you don’t need high-tech animation to create a captivating world with its own intricacies.

Imagine That

June 12, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Eddie Murphy, Thomas Haden Church, Yara Shahidi
Directed by: Karey Kirkpatrick (“Over the Hedge”)
Written by: Ed Solomon (“Charlie’s Angels”) and Chris Matheson (“Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure”)

Eddie Murphy throws us for a loop with “Imagine That,” a comedy that is not half bad when compared to the movies he’s been offering up over the last few years including “Meet Dave,” “Norbit,” and “Daddy Day Care.”

Still, if something is not half bad, it’s only logical that it’s not half good either. While Murphy shows us some signs of life, it’s not enough to resuscitate the entire picture from a slow and exasperating crawl to the finish line.

In “Imagine That,” Eddie Murphy plays Evan, a stock market guru who is working hard to land a promotion at his financial company. A problem arises, however, when his coworker rival John Whitefeather (Thomas Haden Church), a pseudo-Indian philosopher, makes a few better investments than Evan and is soon the trusted advisor to turn to by clients.

Along with the stresses at work, Evan is also getting an earful at home. Recently divorced, his ex-wife (Nicole Ari Parker) is constantly telling him how little time he is spending with his young daughter Olivia (Yara Shahidi), an unusually creative little girl, who has learned to cope with her parents’ divorce by creating imaginary friends and clutching a security blanket a la Linus from the Peanuts gang. Too busy following the stock market, Evan doesn’t have time to listen to the gibberish that Olivia is communicating to him from her fantasy world.

But when it becomes evident that her nonsensical chattering is actually successful stock tips told to her by her imaginary friends, Evan finds a reason to devote some time to his daughter while simultaneously squeezing out as much financial information he can from an unorthodox source.

While Murphy and newcomer Shahidi are a natural fit to play a father-daughter duo, there’s a strong sense of moral ambiguity that is fairly bothersome throughout the film. Evan is clearly exploiting his daughter and there are no ways screenwriters Ed Solomon (“Charlie’s Angels”) and Chris Matheson (“Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure”) can get around that fact. Tying a bow around their relationship and calling it a gift at the final second doesn’t make everything that came before it disappear.

The growth of Murphy’s character is at best stagey. You want to believe he is a good father, but nothing in the film’s first 90 minutes gives you any inkling of that characteristic. By the end, Murphy is letting us hear what any family-film moviegoer would want. Real life isn’t as predictable as “Imagine That.” Although Murphy doesn’t totally strike out (with a lot of help from cutesy co-star Shahidi), it’s not the movie that is going to help repair the questionable comedic choices he’s made since his last great one, 1996’s “The Nutty Professor.”

The Spiderwick Chronicles

February 14, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Freddie Highmore, Mary-Louise Parker, Nick Nolte
Directed by: Mark Waters (“Mean Girls”)
Written by: Karey Kirkpatrick (“Charlotte’s Web”), David Berenbaum (“Elf”), John Sayles (“Lone Star”)

Ever since the first “Harry Potter” and “Lord of the Rings” hit the big screen in 2001, fantasy films have become an essential piece of the studio’s movie arsenal. From the smaller-scale “The Brothers Grimm,” “The Bridge to Terabethia,” and “Ella Enchanted” to blockbusters like “The Chronicles of Narnia,” imaginative escapism at the theater is easy to find these days.

Enter the newest film to the genre, “The Spiderwick Chronicles,” which is based on the book of the same name by Tony DiTerizzi and Holly Black. The film follows three siblings (Freddy Highmore plays twin brothers Jared and Simon Grace), who move with their mother (Parker) into a creepy house known as the Spiderwick Estates.

Of course, there’s more to the home than a few dusty corners and eerie hallways. The estate holds a secret that stems back to the original owner himself Arthur Spiderwick (David Strathairn, who performs his classy scenes through some nicely scattered flashbacks). When Simon discovers a mysterious book called “Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You” he ignores the warning on the front cover that advises him not to read it.

Reminiscent of the game board in “Jumanji,” the book unleashes a host of creatures from another realm, including brownies, goblins, and faeries. There is also darker forces like Mulgarath (played by Nick Nolte), who wants to get a hold of the book for the powers it possesses. Also part of the noteworthy characters are Martin Short (“The Santa Clause 3”), who lends his voice as the bipolar Thimbletack and Seth Rogan (“Knocked Up”), who is a perfect fit for the voice of the piggish Hogsqueal (pictured above).

Highmore does a fine job playing both the Goofus and Gallant-type roles while some very impressive special effects allow both boys to react to each other and the make-believe world around them. Although Highmore is already 15 years old, he doesn’t seem to have hit that unfortunate mark in a child actor’s career (a la Haley Joel Osment of ‘The Sixth Sense”) where his or her face contorts into an unattractive, adolescent mutant. Highmore still has an innocent façade, which will keep him fresh for more role in this genre. He’s already been in a handful (“Finding Neverland,” “The Golden Compass,” “The Mists of Avalon,” “Jack and the Beanstalk,” “Arthur and the Invisibles,” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”).

Rich with creativity, “The Spiderwick Chronicles” is fun and whimsical although at times much scarier than its PG rating would have you believe. Still, even if your five-year-old is watching through his or her fingers, the family adventure should leave an impression for kids and adults alike.