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“Arrietty” Will Be Ghibli’s Biggest US Release Yet

Secret World of Arriety

“I don’t know and I would like to correct that,” was John Lasseter’s response when asked by the Wall Street Journal why Studio Ghibli films don’t perform well in the United States. “I ask that same question all the time…They’re beautiful on the big screen.” Next week, Lasseter and Disney will make their most ambitious attempt to popularize Ghibli’s films stateside when they open the English-language version of The Secret World of Arrietty on 1,200 screens.

The WSJ Journal article about the film, which can be read here (but might be behind a paywall), describes Disney’s challenge of building buzz for the film without any merchandising rights. They are hoping that Arrietty finds a broader audience than the typical Ghibli film since it’s based on Mary Norton’s children’s classic The Borrowers. It’ll be interesting to watch how the film performs in the US. This is a relatively wide release for an indie/foreign animated film, and when Disney feels that they can make money from a more diverse palate of animated films, other film distributors will likely follow suit.

  • “This is a relatively wide release for an indie/foreign animated film, and when Disney feels that they can make money from a more diverse palate of animated films, other film distributors will likely follow suit.”

    That’s what I’m counting on. I hope Arriety does great in theaters. It will either lead to more 2D animated films getting made, or more foreign animated films coming to the States.
    Pretty good either way.

  • I feel disappointed. I wish that they had done that to other Ghibli films like Ponyo or Spirited Away; especially as, in my opinion, Arriety is just a middle of the run film for them. Not their worst but, definitely not their best.

    • Manu R

      I have to agree with Sandra. It’s not Ghibli’s best. Still, if it manages to draw a few people in to Ghibli animations, I wont complain.

    • Inkan1969

      “Ponyo” actually reached 900 screens, comparable to “Arriety”‘s current plan. I think the problem there was Disney still wasn’t sure how to sell the movie to U.S. sensibilities. I’d like to think that there must’ve been some better way out there than recording an autotune remix version of the “Ponyo” theme. :-P

      As for “Spirited Away”, I think it was too culturally specific to have a wide release scale appeal with U.S. audiences no matter what the marketters could’ve done.

    • I think the biggest issues with Disney’s adaptations are the trailers, they make the film seem slow.

      Ponyo was great.

    • Matts Review

      I saw an advanced theatre screening of Attiery here in Aus over several months ago. I really enjoyed it & thought the movie was beautiful, & as an animator there were plenty of little bits & moments that I really want to study when it comes out on DVD, oddly all involving animals like the crow, the cat & the crickets.

      But yes, I agree with those who previously stated that the story isn’t super strong & generally just floats & bobs along until fades out beautify & quietly. Not like there’s anything bad about that. The film has a relatively (to western audiences) quiet pacing, gorgeous execution & is by no means devoid of a story or climaxes / action etc… so the movie on the whole is still very charming. But it’s simply no Spirited Away, My Neighbour Totoro or Kiki’s Delivery Service.

      The qualms I have with Attiery are for the most part related to the fact that the plot has many occurrences or actions that appear as if they are a set up for something to occur later on in the film, things that foreshadow something. I could list more than a just few of these but as most are rather spoiler-iffic, especially if you analyse them in-depth, so I’ll just give the least soiler-ish example of Attiery’s “Sword” / Pin, which she picks up in the first quater of the film. For all intents & purpose it may as well have been a necklace or shoe-horn, because that’s about as much show or use it gets throughout the rest of the film. This is just one example. Others have to do with the characters or stuff foreshadowed in dialogue but I really don’t want to further spoilerfy what is otherwise a gorgeous little film. All I can add is that I can’t wait for Hayao Miyazaki to make a return to the directors’ chair.

  • I’ll be seeing it in theaters, that’s for sure!

    • Inkan1969

      Unfortunately for me, “Arriety” is opening on the same weekend that a local theater is showing the Best Animated Short Subject nominees package. So I may have to wait until the second weekend to catch “Arriety”.

      • Lucky! I need to find a theater showing the shorts! Is there a website that has them listed, by chance?

      • ajnrules
      • ajnrules

        They have it under the Dates & Locations tab of their official website, which can be found here:

      • Chris Sobieniak

        Well, it’s Arrietty for me since nobody in Toledo appears to be right in the head for such an important release as the Oscar shorts.

      • Inkan1969

        Darn right, I’m lucky. :-) I’m seeing the shorts here.:

        The Peace Center: the performance arts venue of Greenville, SC.

  • tomm

    fingers crossed

  • Billy Bob

    I dunno.

    How big has the ad run been for the movie.

    I watch the Looney Tunes Show and Regular Show ad Spongebob and I’ve seen like ONE ITTY BITTY promo for the thing!

    If there is no merch, then they have to do better in gettiing the word out.

    Otherwise it’ll just be us cartoon freaks seeing it.

  • AlanK

    Glad to hear Disney and Lasseter are behind this. I’ll be in the theater on February 17 with a couple of kids in tow. We’re all looking forward to it. Last night, an ad for the film aired on NBC in the Parenthood (10pm) timeslot. Maybe it’s a good idea to market beyond the animation fanzone.

  • E. Nygma

    As far as I can tell it seems the maketing has been no better than previous Ghibli films. I watch a fair amount of tv and only saw one spot. I did see two previews at the theater, but that was also my experience with Ponyo.

    I wish people were more open minded to Ghibli films. When I went to see Ponyo my wife and i were the only two in the theater opening week…until another couple walked in which happened to be one of my good friends. We looked at each other and just started laughing.

    Ponyo was animated beautifully but the story was a bit too childish and awkward at times. It didnt seen to appeal to me as an adult as much as past Ghibli films. I hope Arrietty does well in the states!

    • Sarah J

      Agreed. I’ve only seen like, one ad for Arriety. Even Ponyo, the only time I saw ads for it on TV were on Disney Channel, and even then, they were just hyping up how two of the main voice actors were siblings of Miley Cyrus and The Jonas Brothers. T_T The problem is that Disney doesn’t know where or how to advertise these films, and it is understandable. Ghibli films are pretty different from a lot of American films, they have different story elements and different pacing. They tend to be more surreal and “whimsical” (for lack of a better term) when a lot of the American movies that get popular tend to be faster paced and have more action.

  • You’re welcome, guys.

    I think Arrietty has the best chance of becoming a hit in the States. Mary Norton’s Borrowers books are well-known, the story is fairly simple and direct, and the hand-drawn animation fills a much-needed void.

    Looking at Ghibli’s schedule, I’m not sure whether From Up on Poppy Hill (Ghibli’s 2011 film directed by Goro Miyazaki) will have the same appeal in the West. And the upcoming films by Takahata (Tale of the Bamboo Cutter) and Miyazaki (Kaze Tachino, most likely) are going to be aimed squarely at Japan. After that lies the great Who Knows, where Ghibli’s reins are handed to the next generation of directors, or is mothballed as the old masters go into retirement.

    Anyway, that’s my own take at the moment. If you’re longing for Ghibli to break out in the US, bet everything on Arrietty. It’s now or never.

    • amid

      You’re welcome for what? =)

      • Matt

        You’re welcome for the fact that he’s Daniel Thomas Macinnes! Long time writer of the excellent English Ghiblicon Blog, which is an absolutely fantastic resource & news-den on all things Studio Ghibli for all of us non native Japanese speaking folk!

      • Doug

        Yeah and that means what? “You’re welcome” from him sounds a bit like he’s taking responsibility for the release of this film. A bit full of ourselves are we?

    • Inkan1969

      Is Kaze Tachino being directed by Hayao or Goro?

      • Genaro

        Hayao Miyazaki. Goro Miyazaki’s next film will be a Chanbara film (samurai sword fight movie) set in Tohoku (East Japan)and is currently in the planning stage.


    They’re going to have a hard time finding success with this film. Not that it’s bad, but it certainly is not going to appeal to the attention spans of today’s kids. It is a slow, contemplative film that is more about moments than it is about an overall story. That said, its a weird decision to try and push this on a wider audience as opposed to some of the studios earlier, more bombastic and fun films. Just a thought.

    • Scott Morse

      Absolutely incorrect there. As a father of a 3 and (almost) 7 year old duo of boys, they were absolutely transfixed throughout the film, not batting an eye through the “slow” and considered pacing. They felt for the characters and were enthralled. And they weren’t the only kids in the theater loving it. It was a considerable crowd.

      And these boys of mine are suckers for “bombastic” “storytelling” in their everyday animation choices. They are also suckers for a good story, as is most any child you’d take the time to sit with through something like Arriety. Exposure to quality always pays off.

  • Doug

    I saw an ad for it last night while watching New Girl on Fox and I thought cool! but then thought, is this the demographic that will go see this film? Then I thought, well maybe it is, as I certainly will.

  • Old Man Father Time

    Risky move, but this is one of the biggest corporations in entertainment promoting this film, so low profits won’t hurt them a ton. One major factor that may lower the profits, I think, is that there’s already an English dub produced in Britain that existed a few years ago, so some may think an American English dub may be unnecessary.

    Ponyo DID have merchandise here in the States. There were dolls, hand puppets, and books you could find when it was out and the film STILL floundered!

    • Doug

      From what I heard of the English dub (for Britain) it sounded much better to my ears than the English dub(for America). My main complaint is the need to American-ize these films to make them palatable to a U.S. audience. I know it must be difficult to retain the culture of which it was produced while still making it understandable to us Americans. But some of the dubs are truly awful. To be fair, some are good too.

  • I’m looking forward to seeing it when it comes out later this month!

    I’m hoping it gets more public attention than when “Ponyo” came out in USA theaters.

  • Jamie

    Dubbing drives me crazy even when it’s well done. The voices distract me so much I always wait for the DVD even if that means missing it in the theatre. I wonder how well it’d do if they released it in Japanese with subtitles?

    • Dana G

      I know most anime fans prefer subs to dubs, but in terms of appealing to a wider audience, dubbing is the way to go. No one would take their young kids to see a subtitled movie—even if they’re old enough to read, they probably can’t read the subtitles fast enough, or simply won’t want to. Not to mention adults who don’t want to read subtitles.
      Anyway, Disney’s dubs of Ghibli films tend to be more bearable than most, so I don’t think it’ll be that bad. I’ll definitely be seeing Arrietty in theaters.

  • Funkybat

    Glad to hear this will get a wider release than previous Ghibli films. I don’t know if it’s just my imagination/living in major media cities, but it seemed like Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away got larger releases and more publicity about their theatrical runs than “Howl’s” or “Ponyo” did. The other nice thing was that they had at least a few theaters that showed the “Japanese w. English subtitles” version. I really hope they have at least a single screen in the major film cities (NY, LA, SF, maybe DC) that has it in Japansese with subtitles.

  • God bless him, Lasseter isn’t going to give up on Ghibli for the life of him. Anime purists will detest the English ADR track, but if supporting the theatrical release of a middle-of-the-road Ghibli film will keep anime coming Stateside, I’ll drop down $6.50 each time.

    • kenneth

      ^ Unless the movie is called “Only Yesterday.”

      • A Long Time Observer (of CB)

        ^I’m glad SOMEBODY feels the same way! The only Ghibli film I really like and it was only televised once on TMC. There’s gotta be a way to get a DVD of the movie without paying $40 for an import from my Japanese bookstore.

      • Chris Sobieniak

        There’s one film they ignored entirely if it wasn’t for that TCM airing I bothered to record on DVD one night.

        “I’ll drop down $6.50 each time”

        Of course were I live it’s probably $8 by now.

  • Jabberwocky

    I think the issue with Ghibli films is they tend to be 1) VERY Japanese, with lots of cultural stuff Americans will probably miss 2) slower-paced and more contemplative, with little or no action 3) both of the above.

    Arietty was a cute and enjoyable film, but it is much slower and more thoughtful than the English trailer makes it seem, and I think audiences will be frustrated by that. They never seem to market the Ghibli works correctly in the US. I kept seeing Ponyo described as “an epic adventure like Spirited Away” when in fact it was very much a spiritual successor to Totoro: young children run around and have surreal adventures, but there is very little plot. It is a movie for small children and not adults.

    Arietty is a little bit older, but it’s definitely not the fast-paced adventure movie that the English trailer pretends it is.

    • You make a very good point here… and you can apply this to how other animated films are marketed in the United States as opposed to their native regions.

      Because marketing Japanese animated films in Japan often includes emphasis on character dynamics or drama, the original trailers will focus on character relations (or the emotional connection a character has to the greater narrative). When a title comes stateside, it switches. Anime fans over here will perk up their ears faster if the visuals are more kinetic (and the sound is turned all the way up).

      If it works, then hey, the marketing department did their job correctly. I won’t begrudge them that success by any means. But I think it’s an important distinction to make in a discussion about importing foreign films.

      • Jabberwocky

        I was really struck by the difference in marketing for Ponyo. I happened to be in Japan at the time it was released, and the commercials there were simply the theme song (which is INCREDIBLY bubbly and cheerful and childish) playing over some clips from the beginning of the movie, nearly all of Ponyo, maybe a few of Sasuke. That was it.

        The American trailers were all like “From the CREATOR of SPIRITED AWAY~~ An EPIC and SWEEPING TALE~~” and there was much more focus on the mom, the nursing home patients, and Sasuke, with a little bit of Ponyo thrown in. Again, I’m still really not sure why they compared it to Spirited Away when it was pretty much the same idea as My Neighbor Totoro: children run around and have aimless adventures. :/

        If you can get people into the theatres, that’s one thing. But getting them there under false pretenses, making the movie seem like something it’s not, really only hurts the movie in the end because audiences leave disappointed.

  • I’m just surprised at how long it took to get to the US. I’m in the UK and watched it last year, also it has come out here in DVD. The soundtrack really bugged me, it feels like it is trying to cater to a Disney audience and it doesn’t work.
    Also, although I’m in the UK, I come from a country where all the kid’s movies and series used to have subtitles when I was a small child, and if anything it made me and generations of kids want to learn how to read even more :)

  • Scarabim

    If the film plays in my area, I will definitely go to see it. I love Ponyo and Spirited Away and Kiki’s Delivery Service and My Neighbor Tortoro and…well just about every damn thing Ghibli has ever made…

  • Marc Gagnon

    Even if ARRIETTY does well in theatres, isn’t it a moot point for Disney, since they licensed theatrical distribution rights of the Ghibli to GKIDS? Or does that only count for catalogue titles? Does Disney still get first shot at new releases?

  • I just hope one of those theaters ends up being somewhat close by. I love Studio Ghibli and want to support their movies but I can’t justify a 2.5 to 3 hour drive to see them on the big screen. Especially since I’m the only person in my family who will want to see it.

  • “Disney’s challenge of building buzz for the film without any merchandising rights”

    LOL at Disney “We can’t make toys out of this so we don’t know what to do”

  • Andrew Kieswetter

    I’ve seen Arrietty and enjoyed it. Whether it will do well in the US remains to be seen. I hope Disney and Lasseter will dub Goro Miyazaki’s From Up On Poppy Hill
    and announce a US release sometime this year.

  • I’m glad that Arriety is getting a somewhat more aggressive marketing campaign and a wider release from Disney , but I think the previous very limited theatrical releases of the Ghibli films by Disney means that most of the movie-going public is still unaware that those other Ghibli films were ever released in theaters. For all practical purposes it’s as if those films have never been released theatrically in the U.S., not with a real advertising campaign. It seems to me that the previous theatrical releases were merely polite formalities, contractually-agreed upon “token” releases, prior to putting the films out as English-language DVDs. Maybe as some suggest the Ghibli films are just “too Japanese” to find a wider audience in the U.S. (?), but I know that I’d love to see any of the Miyazaki films on the big-screen again.

    It’s odd to me that Disney has poured more effort into promoting two of Studio Ghibi’s lesser films (Ponyo, and now Arriety) but masterpieces like Spirited Away only got a small “art-house” release .

    • AlanK

      Maybe the increased effort stems from John Lasseter et al. getting behind the films after coming to Disney in 2006, as opposed to releases handled by predecessors. Tales from Earthsea was on the cusp timing-wise, but Ponyo and Arrietty would have been the next Ghibli films released well after the dust settled from the change of command at Disney.

  • messy

    I saw the film yesterday, and it’s the least of the Ghibli cannon. I really didn’t like Ponyo, but at least it was something totally original. This, and yes I know this is yet another adaptation of “The Borrowers” and wasn’t supposed to be, but I really can’t stand the “villain is RIGHT” trope, which Miyazaki is showcasing here.

    It has a Disney ending. The live action ones which everyone hates…..

    • Matt

      It’s not a Miyazaki Senior or Miyazaki Junior film.
      Hiromasa Yonebayashi, a young Studio Ghibli lead Animator directed it. You can see him in the making of Spirited Away Behind the Scenes featurette on DVD. At the very least I like the fact that they’re letting young blood get a chance to direct.

    • “but I really can’t stand the “villain is RIGHT” trope, which Miyazaki is showcasing here.”

      You may be right about the overuse of that trope , but at the risk of nitpicking let’s remember that this film isn’t directed by Miyazaki. I’m sure he had some influence , but the director is Hiromasa Yonebayashi .

    • “Everyone hates?”

      Speak for yourself, John.

    • Old Man Father Time

      There are several things I don’t understand with your statement.

      “It’s the least of the Ghibli cannon.”
      The least ‘what’ of the Ghibli canon?

      “I know this is yet another adaptation of “The Borrowers” and wasn’t supposed to be.”
      ‘Wasn’t supposed to be’? Is there something from the development of the film I missed out on?

      “I really can’t stand the “villain is RIGHT” trope, which Miyazaki is showcasing here.”
      How do you know? Did you see it? And if so, please do not spoil anything. I really don’t know if the movie employs this trope, and if it’s even a trope at all.

      “It has a Disney ending. The live action ones which everyone hates…”
      Wow. Thanks for keeping everything a secret. And if it’s animated, why do you say the ending is of the “live-action” kind? What ending “everyone hates”?

      • messy

        Yes I did see it. Disney’s live action films, especially from the 1960s (Mary Poppins excepted) were far inferior to the animated ones.

      • messy

        Yeah, the adaptation of a book that has been made into a film/TV miniseries at least half a dozen times isn’t supposed to be that original.

        If you read my original post, you would know I saw it.

  • I’m taking my family to the theater to see “Arriety” and voting with my hard-earned and limited cash, in hopes that the opening weekend is strong enough to encourage the powers that be to keep trying to get these great films a wider audience.

    Even if the film does reasonably well, that might make the future more encouraging for future Ghibli and Miyazaki releases in more U.S. theaters. At least they keep trying to get these films out there, even if the returns aren’t huge. That’s a considerable accomplishment in this age of tossing what doesn’t make gazillions.

  • I hope they succeed! seems like a really noble cause for disney to support them.
    I’ll be sure to go see it!

  • mike schlesinger

    I’m thrilled that they’ve finally bowed to fan protests and seem to be making a few subtitled prints. Here in L.A., it’ll be playing twice a day at the Landmark and a few shows at the El Capitan; I assume other big cities will get the same treatment. The turnaway business done at the American Cinematheque for the mostly-subtitled retrospective proves that there’s a large adult audience for these films that Disney is neglecting in their marketing.