White Christmas (1954)

Snow... snow.. snow... snow... SNOW!

Snow… snow.. snow… snow… SNOW!

Phil Davis: My dear partner, when what’s left of you gets around to what’s left to be gotten, what’s left to be gotten won’t be worth getting, whatever it is you’ve got left.

Bob Wallace: When I figure out what that means I’ll come up with a crushing reply.

 

Time for a classic. I still have a ton of Christmas movies I didn’t get to this year, but that’s ok: It will give me something to do next year! But I figured for Christmas day, what better movie to post about than White Christmas? (also appropriate given the fact I’m in Vermont today celebrating with my husband’s family)

This is a movie I watched as a kid but really didn’t appreciate until I was older. My older sister had this phase where she was obsessed with older musicals, and looking back on it I’m glad I was exposed to them at a young age, even if I complained about it or didn’t understand it (now, I LOVE musicals). This was one that was pulled out every christmas, and while we may not have watched it every year, it’s a favorite of my parents, my sisters, and myself alike.

White Christmas begins over in Germany in the 40s, during WWII. We see our main characters, Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby) and Phil Davis (Danny Kaye) performing a little Christmas show for the troops. It’s also come out that their General is leaving, and they have a nice little tribute for him. After rthe show is over they get bombed, Phil gets hurt, and Bob reluctantly agrees to owe him something, which Phil acts on immediately, asking him to do an act with him when they return to the states.

Through a montage, we fast forward a number of years later where Wallace & Davis are now the top of the entertainment industry. But Bob Wallace is super serious about work and has no time for women, whereas Davis is the opposite and thinks Bob needs to loosen up. Around Christmas, they travel to Florida to see an act to determine if they can be in the show, the Haynes sisters. Surprisingly, Bob seems to take a liking to one of the sisters, Betty, and Davis and the other sister Judy hatch a plan to get them to spend more time together. Davis helps the sisters out of a jam, giving them his and Wallace’s tickets to New York, and the four find each other on the train.

The sisters are traveling to Vermont, where they’ve been booked at a hotel. Davis talks Wallace into traveling with them. Upon arriving at the Inn, they realize a few things: it’s super warm for the time of year, no one is in this inn and it’s not doing well, and that their former general Waverly from the Army is the man who owns it. The men decide then and there to help out the old general, transporting their whole variety show up to Vermont for the holidays – a surefire way to bring people in for the holidays and help out.

While the show is up and practicing, Wallace finds out that Waverly misses the army something fierce. He’s been trying to get back in for years, and is rejected once again by letter while the show is there. Wallace comes up with an idea to get the men from his old infantry in for the show to pay tribute. There are a few miscommunications between he and Betty and the others, but eventually the show goes off without hitch, and General Waverly is reminded that he was a good leader and a good general. And of course it snows at the end, because this is White Christmas.

So that’s the plot. The question I’m going to pose is: Why has this movie become a classic? Well, in my opinion, it’s a combination of a lot of different aspects. 1: the songs, 2: The characters, and 3: the message.

The songs, of course, are what White Christmas I believe is the most well known for. Bing’s White Christmas song is a Christmas staple, and of course it is in this movie, but it’s not the only song that is really remembered. “Sisters” is a personal favorite, especially because my mother would sing it to my two sisters and I whenever we were fighting or disagreeing. To us, it’s a personal song that I have to admit I still have an extreme soft spot for.  “Count my blessings” is another beautiful song sung by Bing. “Snow” is another personal favorite. The songs within the Wallace and Davis show are the choreography show stoppers, and they’re great, even if i’ve never quite understood the whole idea of a show within a show. Ah well.

The characters in this movie are very old school (obviously, this movie was made in the 50s) but still completely relatable. Bob Wallace is serious and career driven but has a heart of gold. It’s his idea to do the reunion for General Waverly, and it’s his idea to move the show up to Vermont. He wants to eventually settle down and have children, but isn’t the type of guy who seems to want to date a lot of broads to get there.

Davis, on the other hand, is almost like a polar opposite. Together they’re a bit like the odd couple. Davis is more fun loving. He’s the funny guy who makes jokes, funny noises and faces. He likes to crack schemes, but isn’t quite so covert about them, as Bob understands exactly what he’s trying to do. But he’s fun and talented, and again like Bob, has a good heart.

The Haynes sisters are fun, and add a bit of good banter with the boys. Betty is strong willed like Bob, and you get the feeling that she is very much of a mother hen with her younger sister judy, sticking around and doing the act not only because she enjoys it, but because she wants to make sure her younger sister is taken care of. She’s looked after everyone else, and this movie is about trying to get her to do something for herself. Judy goes well with Davis, although she is much more down to earth.

The only other characters you get to know at all are the General Waverly, and Emma Allen, the receptionist at the Inn. Emma is hilarious. She’s a woman who eavesdrops on everything, involves herself in everyone’s business, and it causes a few issues.  I’ve already mentioned a bit about Waverly. He lives and breathes for the army, and has a sort of feeling of worthlessness because he can’t be involved. Even Wallace and Davis can’t believe that a man such as that has sunk as low to own an Inn. Personally, I don’t really understand the stigma with that, but I normally chalk that up to generational differences. It’s still incredibly touching when they surprise him at the show. It shows a lot of heart, and like i’ve mentioned before; Christmas movies have to have heart.

All in all, this movie is timeless. It’s fun. It’s got a huge heart, great songs, and great characters that make you want to revisit them every year. If you’ve never seen it before, check it out. It’s a classic for a good reason.

I give White Christmas (1954) a 4 out of 5.

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Time to switch gears. I finished my first shelf of animation, and I’m moving across to our first shelf of comedies. Be forewarned: I’m still trying to figure out exactly how to review these, so the first few reviews might be.. odd.

Up Next: Hot Tub Time Machine (

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Christmas with the Kranks (2004)

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“Not Frohmeyer – he’s like the unelected war boss of the neighborhood!” – Nora Krank

Christmas, to me, isn’t about amazing movies. Classics are one thing. Christmas movies become classics because they ARE the good, amazing movies. But in reality, I’m not looking for much in an enjoyable Christmas or holiday movie: It has to be uplifting, fun, funny (although this is optional) and captures the spirit of Christmas about togetherness, forgiveness, etc.

I’m starting this review this way because Christmas with the Kranks is such a movie. By no means is it a “good” movie; it’s not destined to become a classic, but that’s ok. Instead, it’s harmless fun that I think is hilarious, but still manages to uphold the ideals that I believe a Christmas movie should.

This movie is based on a book called Skipping Christmas by John Grisham. It tells the story of Luther and Nora Krank, a married couple, who, because their daughter Blair is out of the country around the holidays, decide to skip Christmas and instead go on a cruise.

It’s a simple enough plot. First Nora isn’t so sure she’s on board with her husband’s idea because it means they are essentially boycotting everything Christmas: no cards, no tree, no donations, no nothing that they have ever done with Christmas. She agrees, however, because it turns out that they will actually save money going on a cruise.

The neighborhood gets into a tizzy when the Kranks don’t buy their Christmas tree, when they don’t put up decorations, and when they don’t plan to have their Christmas Eve party. They put up with it because they will be gone on a cruise. But (plot twist!) their daughter calls on the 23rd, and guess what? she’ll be home for Christmas and expecting a party! And mom doesn’t tell her they’re not having it! Will they be able to pull off a Christmas Miracle in only 24 hours?

A big big big reason I like this movie is because of who is in it. Tim Allen is Luther, and Jamie Lee Curtis is Nora. I really enjoy both of them in their rolls, even if they are complete opposites in this story. Luther is very strict and adamant about no christmas frivolities, almost to the point where he seems insane about this cruise. We get the idea that the reason they’re so into christmas other years isn’t because of him, it’s because of his wife. Jamie Lee Curtis is remarkable in this movie. She’s anxious and scared and you can tell she wants to enjoy all that the Christmas season has to offer, but because of her deal with her husband she is stuck trying to get out of it all (typically that means just running away or hiding in her case).

I was told to be kind, but Nora reminds me a bit of my mother (and my father agrees). Not in a bad way. Not even in the way that Nora can be insanely into Christmas. It’s just some of the reactions she has and some of the ways she acts. Her daughter calls from South America and suddenly it doesn’t matter what she and Luther were arguing about: her daughter is now the most important thing in her life. I can’t really explain it, but to me this movie will always and forever remind me of my mother and some of her mannerisms.

This movie is set in small town USA, and I have to say that whatever small town this is, everyone seems to know each other and this must be the most Christmas obsessed neighborhood/town in America. I really want to know if a place like this exists, because as someone who loves to decorate for Christmas, I want to find a place where neighbors will hunt you down for not putting up lights or buying a tree. In some ways it’s sad because well, technically speaking there are lots of other holidays, but this is a Christmas movie, so I’m not going to get into politically correct or not.

The other neighbors in the Kranks’ neighborhood are part of what makes this movie so hilarious. You have an older couple across the street with a cat that hates Luther (and the wife is suffering from cancer – this is where we get some of our heartfelt ending). You have Frohmeyer, played by Dan Aykroyd. He’s the unofficial war lord of the neighborhood (nora’s words) and crazy christmas man who gets the most upset when he finds out the Kranks are skipping Christmas. His son Spike takes to the phones and the streets when they refuse to put up their frosty the snowman on their roof, making calls exclaiming “free frosty!” We also get to know some other neighbors and a few cops.

The first 3/4 of the movie is the neighborhood antics and everyone getting really annoyed with the Kranks and how the Kranks deal with the neighbors and get out of all their Christmas stuff. Once they figure out Blair is coming home (with a boy who is now her fiancé), it turns into frantic-ness trying to give Blair the Christmas she’s used to. This is where the heart comes out in this movie. The neighbors end up doing anything and everything to help the Kranks pull off a Christmas party, giving them food, their trees, helping them put up decorations and frosty, etc. Because isn’t that what Christmas is all about?

It’s never going to win any awards, but I simply adore Christmas with the Kranks. To me it’s a hilarious comedy that has just enough heart to keep it going. And the acting for a Christmas movie in my opinion is great (my husband, btw, hates this movie. I really think you either swing one way or the other…)

I give Christmas with the Kranks a 3.5 out of 5. Love it, and it’s one I watch every year.

Tomorrow I’m ending this years Christmas movies with a classic: White Christmas (1954). I own many more Christmas movies, but this month just flew by and I didn’t have enough time to watch or write about them. We’ll save them for next year

Care Bears Nutcracker Suite (1988)

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I’ve already established what I think about the Care Bears (See my Care Bears Movie post if you’re interested). This was their attempt at a christmas movie. Let’s take the Care Bears and throw them into the story of the nutcracker. And strangely, it works. I’m not going to lie: this is the ONLY version of the Nutcracker I’ve ever seen. Yeah. I’m not a fan of ballet, and well, this is originally a ballet. I know we owned another version when I was a kid and I might have seen part of it, but I don’t remember.

Anyway! What would a version of the nutcracker with Care Bears look like? Well, here we go!

This story is very much framed, much like the Care Bears movie was. We start with a the practice of a school production of the nutcracker, where we meet a little boy who really can’t believe he’s in a ballet. The teacher sits all the kids down and says she has a version to tell them of the nutcracker that they might like.

The Care Bears are up in Care-a-lot and find a girl and boy who are sad on christmas. Not believing that anyone could be sad around the holidays, some of the care bears head down and find Anna. They try to do their cheering up thing when all of a sudden a portal opens and a strange life-size nutcracker comes though who can talk, but doesn’t remember who he is. Some rats come after him, attempting to capture him. Obviously the care bears and Anna (and her brother) help keep him from getting taken, and the rats return through the portal. The nutcracker remembers where he’s from, and the care bears and Anna are through a portal to Toyland, the place the nutcracker is from. It’s being overtaken by the evil Vizier, who has the sugar plum fairy hostage and is looking for the nutcracker.

After seeing what the Vizier has done to Toyland, the care bears, the nutcracker and Anna decide they’re going to rescue the sugar plum fairy, and at some point in here we also learn that the reason the Evil Vizier has her is because she hid a ring: whoever has the ring has the power to toy land. If they can rescue her and find the ring before him, then Toyland can be free.

There’s some chases, they get captured and turned into wood for a time, but eventually everything does work itself out. It is a christmas classic story, but I don’t want to ruin the end for anyone who hasn’t seen it. Let’s just say the nutcracker isn’t all he’s appeared to be.

Oh yeah, and in this version there’s a side story with baby hugs and tugs and Anna brother. they sneak into toy land after being told to stay home because Hugs and Tugs want to find the perfect ornament for their tree.

In a nutshell (hehe – you’d get it if you know the movie or the ballet), that’s the care bears version. It is super super adorable for kids. It really is like a lot of the other care bears stuff that came out in the 80s: the movies and the TV show. Since this is ’88, it’s during the same timing as the TV show was on, and as a result you DO have a lot of overlapping of instrumental background music and voices (for example: the rat king is voiced by the name actor that voices the villain Beastly in the series). That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but even as a small child I remember thinking it was really odd that this voice I knew so well for one character was coming out of another. Otherwise, the voices are fine and the way we remember them.

our new characters are also pretty interesting. I like Anna, but almost wish she’d be a little bit more gung-ho about the whole thing. I dunno, maybe I’m just used to crazy “I can do it myself” girls in the movies nowadays. But she is likable, and the relationship we get between her and the nutcracker as friends is believable.

The nutcracker himself is also very enjoyable, although I wish the voice actor wouldn’t have a tendacy to be a bit whiny. He’s drawn to protecting Toyland and wants to do anything to help, but can’t remember much. He attaches to Anna and they do care about each other, but I don’t know, maybe I wanted him to be REALLY into saving Toyland. I can’t get too upset though. This is a story that isn’t so much about the drama.

The villains, because this is a kids movie, are a bit played up for their goofiness. the Vizier himself isn’t stupid. He’s smart, has a plan in motion, and acts most of the time more frustrated than anything with his rats and his rat king. I do have to say this: If he thought his rats were doing such a bad job, he could get up off his ass and go get him himself. I feel like we only ever see this guy sitting, talking to the fairy, or giving orders. GET UP OFF YOUR BUTT! ok.

The rat king and his rats are our comic relief, and honestly it works. The king is arguably smart to a point, but doesn’t quite think things through the whole way. His two henchmen are the ones who always seem to screw up, even though its him that get blamed. But they’re fun to watch.

The care bears are the care bears. They don’t change. they’re the characters we know and love.

Probably the thing I love the most about this movie is that it is a GREAT way to introduce the music of the nutcracker ballet to your children. not all the time, but a bunch of the time as our characters are going through certain scenes, the instrumental music IS the music from the ballet. You would think that that might be a bit weird, but honestly it isn’t. It fits in really well because it’s the story, not necessarily the medium. It’s refreshing to hear that at times and not the care bears music that’s used for the TV show.

I also completely adore the storyline with Hugs and Tugs. I think it’s a good secondary storyline because it talks about something a bit more christmas-y. They have to find an ornament that’s all their own, but they want it to mean something. They end up using the walnut the ring was stored in, and I think that’s really cool.

All in all this is a really cute, safe Christmas movie. It’s a great way to introduce the Nutcracker to your child, and it isn’t half bad to watch as an adult. It isn’t deep, but it’s fun. I will note that I was terrified of the part where the Vizier turns the care bears into wood when I was a kid. I remembered not much of this movie until I started watching it but that. I think it scarred me.

I give The Care Bears Nutcracker Suite (1988) a 3 out of 5. Solid holiday fun for your young child and not (too) scary.

Up Next: Christmas with the Kranks (2004)

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

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“Attacked by Christmas toys? That’s strange, that’s the second toy complaint we’ve had.” – Police Officer

This seemed like a good movie to start my christmas movies with. I sort of count it a christmas movie, but at the same time, it would be ok to watch this movie anytime between halloween and christmas, in my opinion.

The movie that is now considered by some to be a classic, if you had asked me when it came out in ’93, I wouldn’t have believed you that it would ever reach that status. Not because it wasn’t popular. It was. I almost just figured that it was a strange little movie that was so odd it wouldn’t find an audience. It was my first movie I ever watched that was remotely tied to Tim Burton (although this is NOT a Burton movie – Henry Selick directed it, Burton simply wrote the poem this was based on). I was not yet aware of the strange weirdness that came from the minds of people like this. It was morbid but curious to me at the same time. I saw it, but I don’t know that I was a fan. To be honest, I don’t even know what possessed me to buy it on DVD. I guess it’s because it is sort of a classic holiday movie now. I felt like I had to own it.

In this movie we’re introduced to the idea that each holiday has its own world, hidden inside a tree. The majority of our story takes place in Halloweentown, where halloween has just ended, and the pumpkin king, Jack Skellington (a skeleton) rules over. He’s upset with his life and is sick of the ho-hum of scaring people year after year. Things just aren’t exciting enough for him anymore. He goes wandering and finds a door with a tree on it and follows it to Christmas town.

This place is unlike anything he’s ever seen, and he returns to share the joy with the ghosts, witches, vampires, and other ghouls that live in Halloween town. But they don’t understand. Jack decides to make them understand, deciding that this year, they will do christmas instead of Santa and the elves. He sends the trick-or-treaters to kidnap him while he and the rest of halloween town get ready for christmas. The only one who knows this won’t work is the patchwork doll Sally, who attempts to talk to Jack but he won’t listen. So Jack’s Christmas night begins, with Jack dressed as santa and delivering all sort of ridiculously scary gifts to boys and girls. Only when he’s shot out of the sky that he sees his flaws, returns, rescues santa and sets things right.

There are a lot of really good things about this movie, but all of it hinges on one of my biggest criticisms of the movie. This movie was marketed to kids. I saw it as a kid. And yeah, ok, I got most of it. A skeleton wants to be santa. It’s funny. The monsters make all the gifts for the kids but they’re all scary gift. Hilarious. Seeing this movie as a kid, it’s funny. But… after seeing this as an adult, the things that made this movie funny aren’t funny anymore. Because this isn’t a kids movie at its heart. It’s a tragedy. It’s the story of a man who is having a crisis, bored with his life, depressed, and tries to do something to fix it only to find that he’s not cut out for it. it’s about realizing that sometimes you life isn’t as amazing as you thought. Obviously it is also a story about realizing that what you thought was boring and familiar doesn’t have to be; it can be exciting if you see it as such.

I think once you realize these things about this movie, stop seeing it as a kid movie, it becomes a bit more brilliant. It becomes not only a movie, but seriously a piece of art. This movie plays more like a musical or a Shakespearian tragedy. It’s the study into the psyche of this character that isn’t always pretty, but it’s believable.

Let’s talk about Jack for a second. First of all, his character design is awesome. He’s a skeleton clad in black, so tall and skinny that he towers over everyone in Halloween town.  He’s obviously a skeleton, but he’s also not all that scary looking, and that’s important for this movie, because I feel that if they had had made him too scary looking, it would have detracted. Anyway. The emotions that Jack feels the entire movie are so well realized. He’s sick of his life because it’s always the same thing. It’s boring to him now and he’s just going through the motions. He wants something more exciting. When he does find something, he latches on. This is such a real situation that it’s scary. How many of us are sick of our hum drum lives and wish we could find something more interesting?

The thing about Jack, though, is that his brilliant plan doesn’t work the way he wants it to. No one understands the thing that brings him joy quite like he does, and he can’t get away enough from who he really is to make a huge change the way he wants to. Instead, he learns his lesson that he should stick with what he knows, and instead learn to rely on those around him that actually care about him to get him through his tough times. Also that you can’t change who you really are deep down; it’s reassuring but at the same time a bit depressing.

Other than Jack, the only other character I’m really going to talk about is Sally, because, as a kidnapped santa says in the movie, she’s the only one in the entire place who’s not insane. Sally is a patchwork doll made by a crazy frankenstein-like scientist. She’s smart and has this connection with Jack – she likes him. She spends most of the movie trying to get out of the scientists grip, and trying to talk Jack out of his whole idea to attempt to take over for Santa. She knows it’s only bound to end in disaster. Sally offers a bit of fresh air and normalcy in an otherwise crazy movie, and it’s nice. She’s like the conscience, whether or not Jack actually listens to her or not (which he doesn’t until its too late).

there’s a whole plethora of other characters, from the crazy two faced mayor to the trick or treaters with the walking bathtub and Oogie Boogie man. This movie is memorable because the designs of the characters are so unique, but to be honest they aren’t really that memorable for any other reason. You remember what they look like, but not much else. Other than Jack, there’s no character development, no real showing of huge personalities. They’re just… there.

I’m going to switch topics and talk about the music for a second. When I was a kid, some of the songs I really liked, while others would put me to sleep. Now… not gonna lie, some of them still do. But that has nothing to do with the words. I LOVE musicals, and understand the need for slow, thought provoking songs. But good lord, the ones in this one are like pulling teeth. There are a lot of them. We go from happy song to song that drags on and on. The lyrics are great, but good God, they could have made it a little shorter. It sounds a bit like Phantom of the Opera, which isn’t a bad thing. But then the upbeat songs are super peppy, and, i dunno, i feel like they don’t mesh well together. That being said, I LOVE “This is Halloween and “What’s this?” Those songs, in my opinion, are total classics. great songs. The others, honestly, I could take or leave. I know they’re conveying emotion, and they ARE doing it well, but again, it all comes back down to the fact I really think this movie was wrongly marketed. To expect kids to sit and watch and listen through all the slow songs and get anything out of them is ridiculous.

I didn’t think I was going to come down so hard on this movie. It is one I’m happy I own, but if I go a holiday season without seeing it, i’m not too upset. What I like about it, I really like, and what I don’t, I really don’t. I’m sure you can all tell that by honestly how half-heartedly I’m writing this review.

Watch it if you’ve never seen it. If you’re a fan, good for you. I know it has its fans, and that’s not a mistake. I don’t think, despite what I thought as a kid, this is a kid’s movie. You get much more out of it when you’re an adult, and you get what I believe is what Henry Selick and Tim Burton wanted you to get out of it. As a kid, all you care about is the fact it’s funny that halloween characters are trying to do christmas.

I know a lot of people are going to disagree with me on this movie. I mean, it’s at an 8/10 on imdb, and a 94% on rotten tomatoes. I’m not disagreeing that it’s original: it is, so much so. It’s just… not my cup of tea. As a piece of movie art, it’s beautiful. As what it is and what it was marketed for and what its become, it’s not great.

I give The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) a 2.8 out of 5.

Up Next: Care Bears Nutcracker Suite (1988)

The Secret World of Arrietty (2010)

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“Arrietty, you’re a part of me now. I’ll never forget you, ever.” – Sho (Shawn)

I have oh so many thoughts on this movie. Mostly good, but also just… blah. I never saw it in theaters but wanted to. Somehow, I never got around to it. But I bought it anyway, because it’s Miyazaki, right? Actually… no. It’s Studio Ghibli, and Miyazaki did help write it, but he did not direct it. That’s right – this is the first Ghibli movie I own that is NOT directed by the man himself.

I look at this as more of a bridge piece for Studio Ghibli. Miyazaki’s final movie as a director, The Wind Rises, is set for theaters in 2014 (it’s of course already been released in Japan). He’s stepping down from the studio he helped create, but to my understanding will still be helping write and animate movies. Enter Hiromasa Yonebayashi. He has been a key animator at Ghibli for years, and this movie is his directorial debut. I’m seeing this man as the one who will be handed the reins of Ghibli (other than Isao Takahata, who of course is important – he just hasn’t done many movies recently – although he’s doing Kaguya-hime next year, YAY!). I have to say I’m a bit worried, but if Miyazaki has faith in him (Yonebayashi IS set to direct Porco Rosso 2, and we know how personal that movie is for Miyazaki), then I do too. If this movie is all I have to judge him on, I have to say he’s on his way to greatness; He needs to learn a few things, and people are just going to have to get over that he’s not Miyazaki, but I foresee good things in this man’s future.

Arrietty is a movie with characters that, at least to me, were already well known: the borrowers. Originally a children’s novel published in 1952 and written by Mary Norton, it spawned four sequels, the latest being published in the 1980s. The stories all focused around a family of borrowers, or small, 6-inch tall people who live in the walls of houses and “borrow” items from the human beings in the house in which they live.

The movie follows not only the idea of the borrowers, but the general plot. The character names are also the same. Arrietty is a borrower, about 14 years old, who lives in a country house in Japan. Along with her father, Pod, and her mother, Homily, they stay out of sight and go “borrow” things that they need that the humans will not miss. In the movie, Arrietty goes out on her first night borrowing and is seen by Shawn, a human boy who has just arrived at the house (we learn he is there to relax before he undergoes operation for his heart). Arrietty feels strangely drawn to the boy, but her parents warn her that once a human sees a borrower, only trouble can ensue.

This proves to be true, not from Shawn, but from the woman who lives in the house (is she a landlord? housekeeper? I’m still kinda not sure). There are some adventures, Arrietty can’t stay away from Shawn, and a strange friendship begins. But it’s not enough. His curiosity and want to help them bring the lady on a mad dash for the little people, and eventually the family has to move from the house to a different one.

The plot is simple. There’s obviously more details, but you’d be better to just watch the movie than for me to explain them. The big thing with this movie is the characters and this world that the borrowers live in. I think that’s part of the reason the books were so popular and why people are so drawn to fantasy stories like this. It’s fun to see what types of things the borrowers use in their home. It’s fun to see how they get around inside the walls. A mouse or a cricket to them is a huge monster. A patch of grass is a jungle. It’s fun to see our world portrayed from a completely different perspective, and that’s one thing this movie does very well.

I wouldn’t have been done well, though, if the detail weren’t as it is. I have gone on and on about detail in Miyazaki movies. But oh dear sweet lord this movie takes the cake. The detail in this movie is AMAZING. Because everything in our world is essentially blown up, the animators didn’t leave anything to the imagination: we see the grains of the wood. We get that to Arrietty and her father, a harmless, light tissue is incredibly heavy and stiff. Every detail is as you would expect it to be if you took a magnifying glass to the things in your house. It’s incredible.

What’s also incredible is how the borrowers get around in this world. there’s contraptions set up inside the walls, with ropes, pulleys, stairs out of nails, etc. Pieces of wall move ever so slightly to allow them into a room. tiny cracks serve as doorways. Pod has knives that come out of his shoes to help him climb. They use pieces of tape (which look incredibly thick to them) to climb up cabinets. I think a lot of kids and adults can find themselves engrossed in this movie because how cool would it be to be a tiny person in a giant’s house??

The world of the borrowers is the real draw to this movie. The characters are… ok. The only one that is really developed is Arrietty, and honestly, she is so good it almost makes me sad that more characters didn’t get more developed in this movie. If they made her so awesome, it was in their ability to make the others awesome as well.

Arrietty is, to put it simply, a confident teenage girl who just wants to be treated like an adult, but at the same time respects her parents and understands the rules of their lives. At the same time, she’s incredibly curious. She’s just starting to experience this world that she lives in, and everything about it that she’s not seen before is so exciting she has to experience it NOW. She almost reminds me a bit of Kiki, but not so gung ho about work. She enjoys her life, and is fine with remaining a kid, but wants to go on the adventures with her father because that just seems to be her personality.

Her dealings with Shawn are very confusing, but at the same time, they are very real. She first realizes he saw her when she’s with her father getting a tissue, and she sees him in his bed with his eyes open and trained on her. She paralyzes with fear and drops the sugar cubes she had in her bag. The next day, he returns them on a stoop by where she enters and exits into the yard. You can feel the conflict within her whether to take them or not. She’s curious, but taking them would mean she’s admitting her existence as well as her trust in him. Her family tells her not taking them is what to do, and she doesn’t. It could have ended there. But Arrietty is so curious and drawn to this boy that she ends up scaling the house to his bedroom window to talk to him. A crow attacks, and he intervenes to save her.

This is almost when she understands that he’s not like the others. But it doesn’t mean that she’ll go full on into friendship with him. The entire movie, it’s still very stand-offish. They have this connection but you can’t get too close, because it’s a rule, and she respects that. Shawn does prove his worth, though, when he rescues her mother after getting caught, and allows them to travel to safety.

Arrietty is such a good, charming character that it makes me sad that Shawn isn’t. I understand why they didn’t develop him a ton: he’s sick, doesn’t have much energy, and is about to undergo an operation to his heart. He’s a kid that’s almost lost everything, and maybe i’m reading “lack of character” wrong. Maybe he’s depressed. Being in a new place with no friends going through what he’s about to go through can’t be easy, and meeting Arrietty almost gives him hope, as well as makes him realize that he can be important and helpful. I think the thing that bugs me about him is that his character is almost left up to the viewer’s ideas. We don’t really know much about him except for what I just said. He’s an ok character, but I feel as if there’s a lot to him we don’t know; the he could have been a bigger character and a better character and still not taken anything away from the focus of Arrietty. I almost would have liked them to get closer. We feel a connection, but it’s not as realized as I feel it could have been. It’s not the connection you get with other Ghibli movies.

the only other characters we get to know are Arrietty’s parents, Pod and Homily, the crazy woman who lives in the house, Hara, and another “savage” borrower who helps them escape, Spiller. Arrietty’s parents are pretty good. Voiced by Will Arnett and Amy Poehler, they’re secondary characters and work well. Pod is strong and silent, and Homily is a bit more animated and worried about safety and the human beings. As a couple, they balance each other out nicely. Hara is the woman who goes to all lengths to prove the borrower’s existence. She acts as our antagonist, and she is a bit crazy. It’s fun to watch them outsmart her. Spiller is a borrower that lives in the “wilds” and not in a house. He’s a man of few words, and acts as sort of?? a love interest? I don’t know, it’s almost as if he’s who Arrietty’s parents wish she’d spend time with. He’s barely in the movie so it’s a bit weird, but maybe they’re planning on making more of these. Dunno.

I know that this is just a movie that’s mainly for kids, and mainly just about showing us the world and showing us what happens to borrowers when they’re seen. I know it’s about that all human’s aren’t evil, but some are. But I don’t know… I finish watching this movie and I just feel…. eh. I feel like nothing happened. It was fun watching it, but I wanted more. I wanted more of the characters. I wanted more of Arrietty and Shawn. It ends, and it’s meant to be this sad goodbye between the two, and you just don’t feel it. I know she taught him not to be afraid, but I want to feel that he learned that. I want to feel that he’s going to miss her. You feel so much in other Ghibli movies. This one has the workings of one, but it’s missing the emotion. It’s missing something with the connection. And it kills me. Because this movie IS good… but it could have been great.

I have one more thing that REALLY bugs me. I don’t know why, but the US version randomly changed the names of some of the characters. Arrietty, Pod, Homily, and Spiller are fine. They’re from the book. But it’s almost like with the US dub, they wanted to try and set this in europe, NOT in Japan, when clearly, this is Japan. They changed the name of the boy from Sho to Shawn and Haru into Hara. WHY????? This is something that really bugs me. This is a JAPANESE movie. It’s SET IN JAPAN. WHY DID YOU CHANGE THE NAMES???? It’s not like people aren’t used to Japanese names from Ghibli: we have Chihiro, Haku, Sosuke, Ponyo, Satsuki, Ashitaka, etc. Seriously. Why the need to change the names Disney?? I actually get mad over this, because I feel like it’s not giving the movie the respect it deserves. It comes from an animation studio that rivals Disney itself and even Pixar. They know that these movies are great. Why mess with it and change something so trivial as names? just to make it more marketable? those aren’t even major characters. they (meaning those at Ghibli as well as Disney) didn’t touch the names of the major characters. Why change random supporting characters to more western sounding names? ugh. I’ll never understand. I think it’s stupid and pointless.

My rant is over, and I apologize. Arrietty is a movie I would say that is worth watching. Is it perfect? no. But you also have to remember it’s not Miyazaki. It’s hard not to compare, but different directors bring different things to movies. It’s still incredibly charming and introduces us to a world familiar but at the same time foreign. I hate to say it, but I almost hope we see more of the borrowers from Ghibli. I would love to see more of her and get more from her family. Definitely a good kid movie.

I give The Secret World of Arrietty (2010) a 3.2 out of 5. Charming, but has its flaws.

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This review wraps up my Ghibli/Miyazaki movies. I really had a blast watching these all again, and reviewing these were among my favorites to write about because they all have so much going for them. I’m hoping this is what my reviews will be like when I do Disney or Pixar. I’m an animation nerd and I’m not afraid to flaunt it.

At the beginning of my Miyazaki movies I ranked them how I thought I would with the reviews. I’m now going to rank them based on what I actually gave them score wise. This should be interesting.

1. Princess Mononoke & My Neighbor Totoro (5 out of 5)
2. Spirited Away (4.8 out of 5)
3. Porco Rosso (4.2 out of 5)
4. Castle in the Sky & Howl’s Moving Castle (4 out of 5)
5. Ponyo & Kiki’s Delivery Service (3.5 out of 5)
6. The Secret World of Arrietty & Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (3.2 out of 5)

Not gonna lie, I’m surprised. Apparently I give the same score to lots of movies, but based on them, I actually agree with this, movie wise. Below is how I ranked them before I reviewed them, strictly on how I, personally, like them:

1. Princess Mononoke (1997)
2. Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)
3. Castle in the Sky (1986)
4. My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
5. Spirited Away (2001)
6. Porco Rosso (1992)
7. Ponyo (2008)
8. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984 – technically not Studio Ghibli)
9. The Secret World of Arriety (2010)
10. Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

Watch them if you haven’t. If you’ve never watched any Miyazaki movies or hate the idea of watching “anime,” please reconsider. I am not, by any means, an anime person. These movies are SO different. every one of them is worth watching the same way every pixar movie is worth watching.

Next I’ll be delving into my Christmas/Holiday movies for the season. And what better way to start than with a transitional movie!

Next up: The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Ponyo (2008)

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“You can’t be busy – you’re five!!”

This, believe it or not, was the first Miyazaki movie I saw in theaters. Previously, I was never in a place to see them, or was never aware of when these movies actually hit US theaters. They tend to come and go quickly, and sometimes they’re not even wide released. This one was, though. Probably because it is one of Miyazaki’s more subdued movies: it’s more like Totoro or Kiki than Howl or Mononoke. It’s a family movie. So how does it rank? let’s take a look!

Ponyo is loosely based off of the story of the little mermaid. Our titular character, Ponyo (although her given name is Boomhilda) is a fish that lives in the ocean in a strange sub-like thing with her father, who is… sort of human? we’ll talk about him later. Anyway, she escapes and ends up getting her head stuck in a jar and is washed ashore, where she’s rescued by a little boy name Sosuke. She licks the cut on his hand he got from rescuing her and it heals quickly. Amazed, he puts her in a pail, names her Ponyo, and takes her to school to show off.

Eventually Ponyo’s father finds she is missing and sends his spirits of the ocean to retrieve her. They do, much to Sosuke’s dismay, but the damage is done. Ponyo wants to be human. Because she tasted human blood, she uses her magic to grow arms and legs. After escaping again and ruining some of her father’s things (she knocks some of his potions in a pot after he just explained that doing so would bring on a new Devonian era), she uses the magic brewing in the ocean to return to land and try to find Sosuke. They reunite, but there’s a problem – because of what she did to her father’s things, the ocean is rising and causing all sorts of problems to the village where Sosuke lives. His mother goes off to help the seniors at the senior center get to higher ground (she’s not worried about where they live because they’re on a cliff), but by morning she’s still not back, so Sosuke and Ponyo decide to go find her and the seniors. Ponyo uses her magic (it’s not as strong now and starting to take its toll) to make a toy boat bigger and they’re off.

Meanwhile, her father appeals to her mother, the Goddess of Mercy, for what to do with Ponyo. They decide that she must go through a test. She cannot be human and magic. They decide to test the boy’s love of her, and if he passes, she can remain human. If not, she will turn into sea foam.

The ending is… weird. well obviously he passes the test and Ponyo remains human, but… it’s weird. I still don’t know if I completely understand one part. But I won’t ruin it.

So that’s Ponyo. This movie has a lot of really great things going for it. The story is familiar to us, but I don’t know if I would have guessed it was based on the little mermaid. So many details are different, and the whole feel to the movie is much different. Instead of an angst-y teenager, we have a little girl no older than 5 years old. Sosuke is the same age. That in itself lends to a very different type of movie, and i think in this case, it really works. In fact, the pure childhood love and the relationship that Sosuke and Ponyo have are one of the major strengths in this movie, and it is worth watching just for that.

Although this movie is called “Ponyo,” I would actually argue that we have two protagonists, and almost that Sosuke is a bit more important. I’ll talk about Ponyo, but I want to talk about our little boy first. Sosuke is, in many ways, a typical little preschool or kindergarden boy. He gets excited about his pets, he makes up things about his fish that he insists is right, and he goes to school. But there are many things that make Sosuke unlike any other little boy i’ve ever met. He lives with his mother and his father is gone a lot because he works on a boat. Sosuke has to be the man of the house, and as such, there is a seriousness to him. He is almost more grown up than he arguably should be. He had to grow up quickly to help his mother while his father is gone. He’s all about following rules. He’s serious to the point where you wonder if he even knows how to have fun anymore. But in this kid’s heart is love; pure love. The things (in this case Ponyo the fish) he gets attached to are cared for with the utmost respect and important. He doesn’t even seem to understand the hatred that exists in people’s hearts. Not even the bitter woman Toki at his mother’s work.

Ponyo, on the other hand, is the complete opposite of Sosuke. She’s naive, excited to the point where sometimes she’s almost manic. Everything is new to her and everything is a game. Everything is the most exciting thing she’s ever experienced. She also very quickly bonds to Sosuke as a fish, even showing a bit of jealousy when he tries to show her to another girl in his class. She’s cheeky, but like Sosuke, has a kind heart. She has a strange sense about her with her magic where she almost knows things before they happen. But to her, everything is fun and everything is a game. As the water rises and they head out on the boat, it could be a dire circumstance, but both she and Sosuke take it all in stride (to her its the most exciting adventure ever!).

I’m not going to lie – a big part of why I don’t like this movie is Ponyo. She’a almost TOO excited to the point where it’s annoying. I feel like they could have toned her down a bit and still gotten the point across that she’s the opposite of Sosuke and she’s teaching him things and he’s teaching her, blah blah blah. That being said, Sosuke to me is the movies saving feature. This is a kid I could watch forever. The two of them balance out perfectly. He’s down to earth and she’s off in her own little world. Together, the two of them do learn to be a bit like the other (sosuke more than Ponyo, but yeah…). You get the relationship between the two of them because it’s so pure and so harmless. It’s friendship. But to kids, friendship is pretty much the same as love, right? You’d do anything for the person.

While the movie really is focused on our two main characters, we have some others around that are also extremely important. First I want to talk about Ponyo’s father, Fujimoto. I haven’t really quite figured out what he is: he looks like a human and has to breathe air, but at the same time it always has to be wet where he walks. When he first tries to get Ponyo back, he walks on the grass spraying the water in front of him. I’m just going to settle by saying he’s some type of ocean spirit God. He’s in charge with keeping the balance in the ocean, although he hates humans and wishes he could return the ocean back to the devonian era when fish ruled the world. He’s not a villain at all, but in the eyes of Ponyo, he is. Fujimoto knows his eldest daughter is his strongest and most magical, but wishes to keep her where he can watch her. It’s the typical “doesn’t want his daughter to grow up” thing. But at the same time she’s only five – I can see his point. His character design is crazy and unique. He wears this amazing blue striped suit and his hair is bright red and all over the place. In the English dub he’s voiced by Liam Neeson, which i think was a nice choice to show that he’s NOT a villain at all.

The other important character is Sosuke’s mother, Lisa (voiced by Tina Fey). She’s upset that her husband isn’t coming home, but tries hard to provide for her son. At the same time – she’s kinda crazy. She’s not afraid to yell at people, drive like a crazy person through a tsunami, or completely abandon her 5 year old son. I don’t think she’d win any parenting awards, but at the same time, she doesn’t bat an eye when her son goes “Mom! Ponyo came back and she’s a little girl now.” I think I’d think my son was crazy if he said that. But not her. She totally goes along with all of this like it’s just another day. She’s a bit crazy, but you can tell she loves her son, and in their life, this is just how it is.

There are some other smaller characters, such as some of the seniors at the senior center Lisa works at, and Ponyo’s mother, a giant spirit Goddess of Mercy. She’s seen as a calm, all knowing beautiful woman. She’s smart, as its her idea to give Ponyo a test, and she understands much better the whole idea of love more than Fujimoto seems to.

The characters are all pretty good. They’re enjoyable and memorable, and like i said, this movie really focuses on Sosuke and Ponyo, and they are a joy to watch. If there has to be a weakness to this movie, I have to say its in the plot. Maybe it’s just me, but I didn’t understand what in the world was causing the flood and the crazy fish creatures until the 2nd or 3rd time I saw this. I didn’t catch the small conversation Fujimoto was having with himself when he was talking about the vials and the devonian era and what not. I don’t understand why he can’t just reverse it. Does it have something to do with Ponyo’s test? I would almost assume, because everything seems to get back to normal after that. The test in general is almost hard to pick out. Is it the whole trip in the toy boat? is it just the end part when he reaches the senior center?

Oh and yes, lets talk about that, because I still don’t really understand. I think i’m reading too much into this. So Sosuke and Ponyo take their boat trip and find Lisa’s car abandoned. They follow up the road and find the high park area with a bunch of wheelchairs but no seniors. No. they’re all still at the senior center, which is under the water but suspended. the people can breathe under there and Ponyo’s mother and father are there too. The seniors suddenly have more energy and are able to walk and breathe under water. The first time I saw this, I thought “oh my gosh, everyone is dead!!!” I mean seriously, it looks it. there’s stuff that’s said and stuff that is done (Toki tries not to go but is eventually drug under the water and the others tell her just let it go) that make you think that seriously these people are dead. WHAT? I don’t think they really are, but seriously. I don’t know. I really don’t. It weirds me out.

I really want to talk about some of the other things I love about this movie, and they may not be what you think. One, I LOVE the artwork and animation in this movie. It’s different than his others. The backgrounds are much softer, and look as if they were drawn with colored pencils or something like that. it lends really nicely to the whole “seaside” look. At the same time, the detail on the stuff under the ocean is incredible. the fish are beautiful. The creatures after Ponyo starts the devonian revolution are awesome. This is a really beautiful movie (as all his movies are – this one just strikes me because of the different medium).

Two, I LOVE that this movie is super scientific. It has a bit of fantasy to it with the Gods of the sea, but this movie is about balance and fish and biology. There’s names of prehistoric fish thrown out there by Sosuke. They talk about the devonian era. They talk about Biology. I Love this movie strictly because of this. (I was a biology major – rarely are there movies that incorporate this type of thing, and especially as well as this one does).

It’s Miyazaki, so of course there has to be an environmental message. We see a boat dredging the garbage out of the ocean, and as mentioned Fujimoto is very anti-human, mostly because they ruin the ocean with their trash. He kinda acts as Miyazaki’s vessel for his environmental message, but in this movie it is very subdued. Instead, this movie is all about showing the wonders of the environment as opposed to yelling at us for what we’ve done to it. It again is a much softer approach, and I feel as if there is just enough mention of it in a movie where the focus is on these little kids.

I don’t really have much more to say about this movie. It’s Miyazaki’s most family oriented film since Kiki, and it was a nice change of pace. I don’t believe it to be as good as his older stuff, but there are some things about this movie that are really magical, and I bet kids would love it. It does have many more scary elements than Kiki or Totoro, but I see that as just the evolution of our times. Apparently we can’t have kids movies without scaring the bejeezus out of them anymore (that’s a whole other can of worms I won’t open in this review). It’s definitely worth a watch if you have kids. It’s very enjoyable for adults too!

I give Ponyo a 3.5 out of 5.

Next up: The Secret World of Arriety (2010)