Of course there are other things coming up I'm looking forward to, such as this offering from Disney/Pixar, due out next year
If you're seeing echoes of Dreamworks' 'How To Train Your Dragon' well I am too, but mainly I'm just pleased to have a kick-ass girl in the lead role. Admittedly she's still a princess but two out three is pretty original as far as the Disney Franchise is concerned. The last time they did that well was with 'Mulan'. And Merida is a red-head too! So often those of the ginger persuasion are relegated to the best-friend or comic-relief roles (think Ron Weasley, who fulfils both). Apparently this is Pixar's first lead female too, which would be admirable if not for the fact that Studio Ghibli has had dozens of them since the mid-eighties. Don't believe me? Let's recap:
Laputa: Castle in the Sky - Sheeta (joint lead)
My Neighbour Totoro - Satsuki and Mei
Kiki's Delivery Service - Kiki, with side-characters Osono and Ursula also making the grade
Only Yesterday - Taeko
Whisper of the Heart - Shizuku
Princess Mononoke - San/Mononoke (NOT your average female love interest by any standards!)
Spirited Away - Chihiro/Sen
The Cat Returns - Haru
Howl's Moving Castle - Sophie (who is 80 years old for most of the movie)
Ponyo - Ponyo (joint lead)
Arrietty/The Borrower Arrietty - Arrietty
Now, a few of these are technically princesses (Mononoke and Ponyo) but one is a metaphorical title rather than a social status, and the other has given up her princess-hood by the end of the film (plus, she is a goldfish, which I'm pretty sure exempts her from this) but the majority of them don't think too much about getting a guy and being lady-like and girly. Either they're off questing or they have far better things to think about (Shizuku is working at being a writer, Kiki is setting up a business, Taeko is re-evaluating her life, Mononoke is... trying to assassinate someone) and what few men there are sort of fall into their lives as a bi-product of this. Half the time they are either rejected or overlooked to boot. None of these films ends in a wedding. All in all this really appeals to me since there are surely more important measures of a girl than whether or not there's a fella about. And damn it, I want to go questing too! That sounds like so much more fun than sitting about waiting for my true love to drop from the ceiling.
Now let's evaluate the competition.
errr... I think Brave is it. Don't say Tangled because that wasn't Pixar, that was Disney Animation. I would add Disney to this list to help bump the numbers but every female lead I can think of is a princess or becomes one by the end of the film even if she is kick-ass. Except for Lilo and Mulan (and even she wins her man)
Anyhow, somehow The Borrower Arrietty had managed to fly under my radar so I only saw it last week.
As usual it is exquisite work, full of the intricate hand-drawn animation that Ghibli is famous for, and the quiet spaces and gentle silences that are often passed over in Western cartoons in favour of action scenes, background music and montages. Speaking of music, I'm thoroughly in love with the soundtrack too. It was written and performed by French singer and celtic harpist Cecile Corbel, and adds an ancient fairy-like dimension to the incidental music in the film in particular, as well as the main theme song. You can watch it in Japanese or English, and the jury's out on which is better. I think you keep something nice in hearing the original language, but for those who find it hard to read on screen or pick up spoken intonation better in their own native tongue I have no objections. The actors for the Ghibli translations are usually well chosen.
This article from the Guardian sums it all up pretty well, including a pretty interesting quote from Hayao Miyazaki himself about why exactly Ghibli enjoys it's female heroines so much.