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THE SECRET WORLD OF ARRIETTY (2012)
Release Date: February 17, 2012
Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi (English Version: Gary Rydstrom)
Screenwriter: Hayao Miyazaki, Keiko Niwa (English Version: Karey Kirkpatrick)
Starring: Bridgit Mendler, Amy Poehler, Carol Burnett
Genre: Adventure, Animation
MPAA Rating: G
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
THE ENGLISH-LANGUAGE ADAPTATION OF “THE SECRET WORLD OF ARRIETTY”
Japanese audiences were the first to take “The Secret World of Arrietty” to their hearts when it was released in 2010. With more than 12 million viewers, it became the highest grossing film at the box office that year and went on to win the Animation of the Year Award. It was then released in Asia and Europe, where it delighted moviegoers in many countries.
“The Secret World of Arrietty” has already proven its broad audience appeal and garnered critical acclaim around the world. Now, with the English-language version of the film, North American viewers of all ages who appreciate beautiful animation and compelling stories will have an opportunity to be equally enchanted by what David Gritten of The Telegraph in London calls “...Ravishingly colorful and textured. Animation doesn’t get any better than ‘Arrietty.’”
To achieve the elevated level of technical sophistication expected from both Studio Ghibli and Walt Disney Animation Studios, renowned producers Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy (“War Horse,” “The Adventures of Tintin”), who previously worked with Walt Disney Animation Studios on the English-language adaptation of Studio Ghibli’s award-winning animated international box office hit “Ponyo,” were asked once again to bring their skills to the English-language dubbed version of “The Secret World of Arrietty.” Ardent admirers of the imaginative work of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, as well as the source material novels by Mary Norton, Kennedy and Marshall were delighted to offer their talents to this latest masterpiece. As Marshall says, “We always look for a good story and this is a wonderful one.”
Among the most admirable aspects of “The Secret World of Arrietty” are the beauty and purity and innocence in the film. “It’s a modest, quiet, humble film,” Kennedy says of her response to the movie. “I enjoy the scaling differences between Arrietty’s tiny world and the one we’re familiar with. I think the message of the film is, whether you’re big or small, there is a beautiful world around us and we should all try to live together in peace and have an optimistic view of the world.”
Marshall adds, “It’s a movie about underdogs and operates with a quiet tone and undercurrent of environmentalism, which is a theme that pops up quite often in Studio Ghibli films.”
Arrietty and her family represent nature and the smallthings that one rarely thinks about––blades of grass,bugs––life that is usually tucked away in the environment and that has learned to live underfoot. They’ve learned to borrow from the planet only what is necessary to survive and will allow for comfortable living.
“...Ravishingly colorful and textured. Animation doesn’t get better than ‘Arrietty.’”
—David Gritten of “The Daily Telegraph” in London
“It’s also a movie about forgiveness,” Marshall says. “Arrietty realizes the risk that the young character Shawn has put himself in by trying to keep her and her family safe. In her quiet goodbye she wishes him the best with his upcoming surgery. Although he has unintentionally caused her family much uprooting and destruction, she knows that he never meant to harm her. It is this forgiveness, this understanding, that makes the movie’s ending so beautiful.”
Kennedy adds, “As humans, we can sometimes be small-minded and selfish and create havoc in the world, but from the people who want to protect our planet, we can be forgiven, and we can work together to steer this Earth to a more peaceful and harmonious place.”
For many technical reasons, creating an English-language adaptation of “The Secret World of Arrietty” that would live up to the monumental popularity and triumph of the Japanese-language version was a great task for the American filmmakers. “The biggest challenge was to sync the actor’s voices with the characters, as they are now speaking English instead of Japanese,” Marshall says.
Because of his success working with Studio Ghibli as director of “Tales from Earthsea,” seven-time Academy Award®–winning sound designer Gary Rydstrom (17 Oscar® nominations including his sound design work on this year’s Best Picture nominee “War Horse,” as well as “Saving Private Ryan,” “Titanic,” “Terminator 2: Judgment Day”) was engaged to direct “The Secret World of Arrietty.” “Gary has done sound design on many of our movies and has recently started to direct projects for Studio Ghibli and Pixar,” Kennedy adds. “Gary has a good character and story sense and with his experience with sound design he was able to handle the technical challenges.”
“There’s really no other job quite like working on a Studio Ghibli film for English-language audiences,” Rydstrom proudly says. “Normally, when you record voices for an animated film, you’re recording before there’s much animation. You’re discovering the story and building up the script and the characters and the dialogue as you go along. With ‘Arrietty,’ we had to fit everything into the existing story. In this case we took a translation of the Japanese and Karey Kirkpatrick wrote a unified script in English.”
This was an incredibly tricky endeavor. Of course, the dialogue had to fit the syllables that matched what had been originally spoken on screen. “We were doing our version and fitting it to animation that had already been done,” Rydstrom explains. “Our actors weren’t speaking anything like what the sound is in Japanese. We had to have the English sentences be fun and make sense and be dramatic, but everything had to fit into the length of the syllables of what was originally spoken on screen.”
Even for prolific screenwriter Karey Kirkpatrick (“The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” “The Spiderwick Chronicles”), this was a complicated endeavor. He had to not only maintain the integrity of the story but also find words that fit the lip movement of the characters when the voice talent dubbed their roles.
“A writer wants to bring his skill set and experiences to any writing project,” Kirkpatrick says. “But I was limited because the story had already been told. Any changes that I might want to make for an American viewing audience was harder because a lot of the choices were already made. Therefore, my mission was to bring clarity that fit within the existing story but to make it play for American sensibilities without destroying what Studio Ghibli does so well.”
Kirkpatrick was personally selected by producers Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall to write the English-language screenplay for “The Secret World of Arrietty.” As Marshall explains, “Karey is one of our favorite family writers. His scripts for ‘Over the Hedge’ and ‘Charlotte’s Web’ made him the perfect choice to adapt this story.”
Kirkpatrick recalls, “I’d written a couple of movies with Kathy and Frank, and one day Frank came to me and asked if I was busy. I was in fact writing another film, but he joked that I could surely squeeze in a script for ‘Arrietty.’ I’ve been a fan of Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli’s work for a long time, so I said yes, I would love to do the job.”
However, Kirkpatrick found that the assignment was more daunting than it originally seemed. “When I first sat down to write, I thought, Wow, this is a lot harder than I thought it would be,” the writer says of his experience. “I had to construct sentences in ways that I might not normally construct them. It became a matter of adding words and articles and adjectives to fit the length and meter of the characters’ mouth positions. Of course, once I got my head around it, it ended up being fulfilling.”
The Kennedy/Marshall team was earnestly respectful of the filmmaker’s original vision and sensibilities especially with regard to East/West cultural differences. To assist director Rydstrom, Studio Ghibli sent it’s resident expert Steve Alpert, who had previously worked with Rydstrom on “Tales from Earthsea,” to be it’s liaison. Although an American by birth, Alpert speaks fluent Japanese and lives in Japan. Among his many creative and technical services to the project was comparing the Japanese and English dialogue for subtle differences and to make sure that the translation was as close to the original intent of the story as possible.
“We have a very elaborate translation process at Ghibli, and it’s really difficult for a lot of reasons,” Alpert says. “First of all Japanese and English are diametrically opposite to each other. And Japanese sounds are generally a lot longer than in English, with words ending with an open vowel, which means there’s an open mouth position on the animated characters. We were dubbing to an existing picture that was drawn for Japanese voices, so we had to be able to fit the mouth movements on screen with the English dialogue. It’s a really rigorous process, but Karey Kirkpatrick made it sound really beautiful.”
Working on the English-language adaptation of “The Secret World of Arrietty” was a labor of love for all involved. As screenwriter Kirkpatrick says, “Everybody had respect for Studio Ghibli and the material and we all wanted to create something magical. The animation is stunning and the great amount of time that the artists spent on atmospheric things such as crickets hopping and raindrops falling off of leaves is absolutely amazing.”
“It truly is a magical film,” director Rydstrom agrees. “It’s enthralling to think that there are beings like us, but much smaller and living in our world, but we don’t see them very much. We do know that there’s life in our world just underneath our feet that we might not be aware of. ‘The Secret World of Arrietty’ has so much heart and is a wonderful story about breaking free of restrictions and having a relationship with something outside of your world, and breaking into the larger world out there.”
“We are very proud to be a small part of the Studio Ghibli legacy,” says Frank Marshall. “’Arrietty’ is a wonderful film for the whole family. It’s about the existence of a world entirely parallel to ours, a view of our daily life from a different perspective.”
Kathleen Kennedy concludes, “It’s an adventure into the unknown, an insight into a culture so similar yet so mysteriously different than our own. The visuals, artwork, animation, sound and music all work together perfectly to create the kind of movie we love to bring to audiences of all ages.”
THERE ARE NO SMALL ACTORS, ONLY TINY PEOPLE!
When director Gary Rydstrom, the producers and Steve Alpert from Studio Ghibli began considering voice talent for the English-language voice dubbing of “The Secret World of Arrietty” characters, they talked about many casting options. Although the pool was enormous, they quickly compiled a very short wish list of skilled actors. With optimism they set their sights on several of the foremost acting talents in Hollywood.
“It’s a superb cast, all very talented, with unique voices that bring life to the characters they are playing,” says Frank Marshall. “We wanted a lightness and humorous feel to the movie, so Bridgit Mendler, Amy Poehler, Will Arnett and Carol Burnett were perfect casting choices.”
For the title role of Arrietty the filmmakers were delighted that Disney television star Bridgit Mendler (“Good Luck Charlie,” “Wizards of Waverly Place”) was available and eager to take on the part of the tiny borrower.
“Bridgit was a revelation!” director Gary Rydstrom says of the popular young actress. “She is a really good actor and brought a completely natural and believable sense of fun and adventure to the role. She was astoundingly good. She gave an amazing performance not only with dialogue but also during long stretches where Arrietty is exerting herself, crawling up and down furniture and doing adventurous things. Bridgit would make all types of interesting sounds as her character moved through scenes on screen. She performed those little details so well, you actually believe that the character and this voice are meant to go together.”
Mendler’s well-deserved reputation in Hollywood for being as gracious as she is versatile
won her the starring role of Arrietty without having to audition. As she recalls, “Disney asked if I would be interested in participating in this project. Of course I said yes! They sent me a copy of the Japanese version of the movie, and I thought the animation was so beautiful. I knew this would be a wonderful project, and I was delighted to have the opportunity to be part of it.”
Arrietty is a fearless and brave adolescent who is growing up and wants to have more opportunities to explore the world. As Mendler is not that far removed from Arrietty’s stage of maturity, she perhaps had a greater degree of insight into the character than anyone else could have. “It was great to play those growing up moments where Arrietty faces challenges,” Mendler says. “Arrietty is very sweet and she cares about her family and takes a lot of responsibility in making sure that they’re safe. But when she becomes friends with the human boy Shawn, she’s conflicted. And she unintentionally exposes them to the housekeeper who is eager to tell the world about the tiny people.”
Although Mendler had not read Mary Norton’s series of novels upon which the film is based, she recalls that when her grandfather found that she was working on this project, he was incredibly enthusiastic. “He told me that ‘The Borrowers’ was his favorite book when he was younger. We talked about it, so through him I became more familiar with the story.”
Kirkpatrick was very impressed with Mendler. “In her very first session she absolutely nailed it,” he says. “It was not easy to do, getting the rhythm of the dialogue, but she blew us all away and was just a delight to work with.”
Amy Poehler (“Parks and Recreation,” “Saturday Night Live”) and Will Arnett (“Arrested Development,” “The Office”), who portray Arrietty’s concerned parents, Homily and Pod, are well known for their comedic gifts and easily add a feeling of familiarity with each other to their roles. “I don’t know who came up with the idea to cast them,” Rydstrom says, “but it was a brilliant idea ... not just because they are married in real life, but they’re both great actors. They’re not only funny, but they have really interesting voices too, and that’s key.”
Amy Poehler was already familiar with the book “The Borrowers” and when her friend, producer Frank Marshall, approached her about playing the role of Arrietty’s overly concerned mother, Homily, she was eager to accept the challenge.
“It’s always fun and familiar to play a worried mother. Homily would love to live an undisturbed life,” Poehler says. “She is a kind and careful mother who would rather avoid adventure, if possible. Homily reminds us that no matter how small a mother’s size, her heart is always big.”
For the role of Pod, Arrietty’s autocratic but loving father, the filmmakers needed a strong voice to help tell a sweet story. Pod is a character who represents strength and stability for his family. When Will Arnett was offered the part he accepted without reservation. “Here’s a guy who is representative of a steady hand,” the actor says. Other than being a real-life new dad, Arnett says that his role is the first real father figure he’d ever played. “It’s interesting to me, being a new dad, to be able to play a character like this and show the kind of strength and guidance it takes to be a father. Performance-wise, I think it’s a reflection of my own life,” the actor says.
“The story is delightful and captivating,” Arnett adds. “Not only does it capture a child’s imagination, but it captures everybody’s imagination. The storytelling is wonderful and themes are universal,” the actor says.
When tiny Arrietty breaks the cardinal rule of all borrowers and has an interaction with a human being, it is a sickly young boy she befriends. For the role of the human boy Shawn, the filmmakers selected David Henrie, who is perhaps most well-known for his starring role on the Disney Channel’s “Wizards of Waverly Place” and his recurring role on “How I Met Your Mother.”
Just the opposite of feisty Arrietty, Shawn is ill and doesn’t have much energy. “David had to give us the sense, through his vocal acting, that exerting himself was dangerous to his health,” director Rydstrom says. “He brought a real natural earnestness to the character. He totally succeeded in presenting a perception of exhaustion.”
Henrie’s depth of emotional feeling allowed him to liberate the emotional feelings of the character, but it was far from easy. “It was definitely challenging, because not only did we have to deliver a range of emotions but also time it out to the characters’ lips that are already moving to another language,” Henrie says. “So it was a matter of dubbing and redubbing time and time again, and providing the emotion that needed to be delivered.”
Henrie explains that the task was more calculated than shooting a live-action movie or television show because the filmmakers required specific emotions at specific moments. “I just had to completely trust the people that I was working with,” he says of director Rydstrom, Steve Alpert and Karey Kirkpatrick. “They’ve done this before, and very
successfully. Gary definitely knew what he wanted and how to get his actors to fulfill his goals. Everyone was great, and I had a terrific time working on ‘Arrietty.’”
For the role of the odious and quickly becoming mentally unhinged housekeeper, Haru, the filmmakers hit the funny bone jackpot when iconic and universally beloved comedienne Carol Burnett agreed to voice the character. The multi-Emmy® Award- winning star says that when she was offered a part in “The Secret World of Arrietty” and discovered it was for the role of the villain, she instantly and eagerly accepted. “Oh, a villain is much more fun to play!” she exclaims.
“To have Carol Burnett play this evil, conniving, bitter character of Haru was so much fun,” says director Rydstrom, “and I think she relished the role! Carol is such a sweet lady, and she rarely gets to play the bad guy. But you can put the word out that Carol is a great villain! And she was so funny doing it,” the director raves. “On a personal note, it was wonderful for me to have had the opportunity to meet her and work with her, because she’s certainly one of my heroes. She has the reputation of being one of the nicest people in show business, and I certainly found that to be true.”
Although Burnett has previously voiced animated characters, most prominently as Kangaroo in “Horton Hears a Who!,” dubbing Haru in “The Secret World of Arrietty” was particularly challenging. “It’s very exacting because, when you do animation, generally you have a script and you read the lines the way you want to read them. Then they add the animation figures to what you’ve done,” Burnett says of the process. “With ‘Arrietty’ the animation was already done. So the characters’ mouths were already moving, but they were speaking Japanese. So what we had to do was to match the English dialogue to the movements of the mouths. I’d want to read the lines in a certain way but then I’d be talking and the character’s mouth would be closed,” she laughs. “And when I wasn’t talking the mouth would be moving! It was a challenge, but after a few takes I got the hang of it.”
“The most fun I had was when Haru has her nervous breakdown.
I just love that all her plans fall apart!”
—Carol Burnett (voice of Haru)
Studio Ghibli’s liaison to Disney Animation, Steve Alpert, recalls that on the first day of recording, everyone at the studio was very excited because Carol Burnett was coming in. “She was great and funny and is a wonderful person,” he says. “She arrived an hour earlier than expected, so the welcoming committee wasn’t ready. I explained the situation and she said, ‘Oh, I’m always early. Remind me to tell you the time that my husband and I were a day early for a dinner party!’ That’s the kind of person she is,” Alpert says.
For screenwriter Karey Kirkpatrick, having Carol Burnett speak his lines was a dream come true. “For me it was the absolute highlight of this project,” he says with a bit of awe. “I grew up watching her show. She’s a legend and could not have been sweeter and more accommodating. She has to scream a lot for her character, and that was a delight too.”
Returning the filmmakers’ mutual admiration, Burnett says, “I called my agent after the recording session and told him how great everyone was to work with. I said, ‘These guys were so much fun and put me right at ease because I’m always a little nervous before doing a new role. But I loved that we were there to have a good time. I’m very proud to be part of this.”
Although Moises Arias, who starred with David Henrie on “Wizards of Waverly Place” and now provides the voice of the worldly and wild young borrower Spiller, has dubbed other animated projects, he agrees with Burnett that working on “The Secret World of Arrietty” proved especially demanding. “This was definitely different for me,” he says of the process. “For one thing, I was dubbing to another language. Instead of going into a sound booth and speaking dialogue with my regular voice, I watched the [movie] screen and did my best to match my character’s lip movements. But it was a lot of fun, and the people were all great to work with. The director made me feel really comfortable.”
Just as Bridgit Mendler was tasked with using her voice to provide the sound effects representing her character’s physical exertion during the course of her borrowing adventures, so too did Arias have to create a series of sounds for his character. “Spiller doesn’t have a lot of dialogue, because he’s very much to himself,” Arias says of his vocal contributions to the film. “He says very little, but his actions are supplemented with non-verbal sounds––for instance, when he’s climbing walls. He emits little growls.”
Also, like Bridgit Mendler, Arias didn’t have to audition for the role. He was selected based on his critically acclaimed performances on other studio projects. “I’ve worked with David [Henrie] something like three or four times before, and it’s great to be in a movie with him,” Arias says.
ABOUT THE SOURCE MATERIAL
When Mary Norton’s novel “The Borrowers” was published in the mid-20th century, it became an instant classic and winner of the prestigious Carnegie Medal for children’s literature. It was proclaimed “one of the most important children’s novels of the past 70 years.” Norton went on to publish four sequels: “The Borrowers Afield” (1955), “The Borrowers Afloat” (1959), “The Borrowers Aloft” (1961) and “The Borrowers Avenged” (1982).
Internationally acclaimed filmmakers Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata (co-founder and long-time collaborative partner with Miyazaki of Studio Ghibli) originally had the idea to make a film version of “The Borrowers” over 40 years ago.
Flash forward to the early summer of 2008, when Miyazaki recommended “The Borrowers” to producer Toshio Suzuki.
As Suzuki recalls, “Miyazaki suggested that I produce the film adaptation of ‘The Borrowers.’ It seems he wanted to revisit the old project. But I actually wanted to do a different movie. Stubborn as we were, we failed to reach a conclusion. In the end I gave in.”
Suzuki was curious as to why, after four decades, Miyazaki was so interested in returning to a project that had been little more than a pet idea. “Why now?” Suzuki asked.
“The setting is perfect for our times,” Miyazaki responded. “Our old lifestyle of mass consumption is nearing an end. With a little help from the current economic situation, the concept of borrowing rather than buying is becoming the new standard,” he explained.
According to the longstanding tradition at Studio Ghibli, Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki take turns directing their films. Although they are both still energetic men, they are now a bit older and decided they would like to find a younger director to take over the reins of what was tentatively titled “Tiny Arrietty.”
“We wanted to find someone like Goro Miyazaki, who directed ‘Tales from Earthsea,’ Takahata recalls. “I suggested Yonebayashi. Even though I hadn’t talked it over with him, I knew he was right. Besides, he is one of the best animators at Studio Ghibli, and Miyazaki was very impressed with his work. I made the suggestion to Miyazaki, and he immediately responded with delight.”
Yonebayashi was summoned to Miyazaki’s office for a meeting. “Once Miyazaki makes up his mind about something, nothing can stop him,” Suzuki says of the legendary filmmaker. “Yonebayashi came up, and Miyazaki came right to the point. ‘This is the new project.’ He handed the book to Yonebayashi. ‘You are the director of the movie!’”
“Yonebayashi rarely shows emotion, but when he heard Miyazaki’s words, he looked amazed,” Takahata says. Flabbergasted by the pronouncement, Yonebayashi said, “Directors need to have a vision for a project. I do not.”
“All you need is written in the book,” Miyazaki insisted. Yonebayashi was completely stunned but, of course, accepted the challenge.
For the first several days of production, Yonebayashi met with Miyazaki and listened to his thoughts and ideas about the story. But when it came time to produce the storyboard, he wanted to stand on his own two feet. He worked up his courage and went to Miyazaki and told him he was ready to work alone. Miyazaki was thrilled and said, “Way to go! You are the man for the job!”
Before director Yonebayashi started the project, Miyazaki assembled his in-house animators and told them, “When we first thought about making ‘The Borrowers’ into a movie years ago, Isao Takahata offered this advice: ‘I believe the success of this project depends on how vividly you depict the borrowers’ life and their ways of wisdom and inspiration. No matter what, they have to be practical. Generally, characters with inner thoughts of allure tend to be fantastical. This story, however, is all about survival. You’ve got to stick resolutely to the outer appearance.’”
ABOUT THE FILM’S SONGS
With his specific vision for all of Studio Ghibli’s films, Hayao Miyazaki invests his entire creative energy into every aspect of his films. This hands-on collaboration with his other filmmakers includes the all-important music that underscores the story. For “The Secret World of Arrietty,” Suzuki had an epiphany. He had heard a CD by the French singer/songwriter Cécile Corbel and instantly knew that she had the right sound for his movie. He located her and wrote an impassioned request:
THE HISTORY OF STUDIO GHIBLI
Established in 1985 by Tokuma Shoten Publishing, Studio Ghibli is an animation studio based in Japan and founded by Hayao Miyazaki and Tokuma Shoten had been serializing Miyazaki’s version of “Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind” since 1982. The following year, they decided to produce a film version of “Nausicaä” to be directed by Miyazaki himself. When the finished film was released in Japan in 1984, it proved such a success that Miyazaki and Tokuma decided to create a studio dedicated to the production of high quality animated feature films like “Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind.”
In this way Ghibli is unique among Japanese animation companies, most of which depend primarily on TV series and original animation videos for income. Because it focuses on large-scale feature films, Studio Ghibli makes around one film every two years, most of which have been directed by either Miyazaki or his colleague Isao Takahata. The studio has won numerous awards, including an Oscar® for Best Animated Feature for “Spirited Away,” and has enjoyed considerable box office success both at home (where “Spirited Away” proved more popular than “Titanic”) and abroad. “Spirited Away,” “Nausicaä” and other timeless masterpieces from Studio Ghibli are available on Blu rayTM and DVD.
Studio photos, notes and videos © 2012 Walt Disney Pictures