They weren't entirely disappointed. I say 'entirely' because some element of the Ghibli experience was definitely missing; that element is probably best identified as the part that always makes me wonder whether I should actually let Item be watching the film, as it might give her nightmares - like the no-faced wraith in Spirited Away (actually, like most of Spirited Away...).
There was very little darkness in Arietty, probably because the story adhered quite strongly to Mary Norton's original story, although it was set in modern times. Not markedly - the house in which all the action takes place is an old-fashioned one - but there was a mobile phone, and, come to think of it, clingfilm.
The other notable difference was that it is set in Japan. All the same, if you shut your eyes to a few details, it could have been pretty much anywhere. I mean, no-one was sleeping on futons or bathing in Japanese-style tubs like they do in Totoro. But there were little things, like characters taking off their shoes indoors, or the stamps on the borrowers' walls being Japanese ones, that placed it. Even the foundations of the house seemed 'Japanese' to me, in my limited understanding of what that actually means.
Also, interestingly (to me), when the characters sat down to a fairly westernised meal of meat and two veg, they each also had a bowl of rice. I think I'm right in saying that the Japanese word for 'meal' (gohan) translates directly as 'rice', and a meal isn't considered a meal if rice doesn't feature. Despite these details, I wonder whether Studio Ghibli were trying to make the setting generic and unidentifiable. And now I'm trying to recall whether the characters ate with chopsticks or knives and forks at that meal... gah, I can't remember. Not to worry; I'm pretty sure we'll be buying the film on DVD when it comes out.
As usual, the scenic backgrounds were absolutely beautiful. Miyazaki always seems to key into those small landscapes that people love, but assume they are special for noticing, like overgrown patches of wasteland beside rivers, or little alleyways. The film begins with the view of a Japanese backstreet that reminded me precisely of one I got lost in myself.
It's quite a slow-moving story, and like the first volume of the book, it cuts off suddenly, with some issues unresolved. But a lot of the slowness comes from lingering over the astonishing artwork of the life under the floorboards, whether that's the dusty beetle-infested no-man's land between the borrowers' home and the human rooms, or the absolutely beautiful interiors that the borrowers have supposedly fashioned for themselves.
Something Arietty manages that I don't think either the original books or the British TV version did is to impart a sense of how dangerous the life of the borrowers is: you do feel the distance to the floor from the dado rail, and the constant sense that animals bigger than oneself - which includes all creatures from cricket-size upwards - are potential predators.
I really love that Item and I share our appreciation of these films. It was pitched precisely right for her, with no tricksy plot twists, and everyone stating their intentions clearly - which could, of course, be seen as a failing too. For all my love of Ghibli, I think all the major films fail to adhere to western plotting expectations to a greater or larger extent. The obvious reason would, of course, be different cultural norms, but I have no idea whether that's actually so, or if Ghibli do actually indulge in odd plot diversions and over-stated actions because they believe them to be aesthetically superior.
I enjoyed it enough. All three of us appreciated the cat character Nyan, who has the air of a much-missed mog of ours, dear old Chickpea.
Item has come away with ambitions to set up her own animation studio one day. I think that there are worse career paths to follow, but that she'd better start practising her drawing a bit more.