Once upon a time, there was a princess named Arete, sheltered from the world in a high tower of a castle. While knights vied for her hand, she wanted nothing more than to see the world with her own eyes, rather than just through books.
One day, a sorcerer named Boax offers to marry Arete and turn her into a real princess. Will Arete find another prison ... or finally find the way to her own heart's desire?
Princess Arete is an interesting piece of work. Beautiful in its simplicity, it tells a tale of a princess who doesn't want to be saved by a knight in shining armor, but rather to live life by her own terms. I wouldn't exactly call it an opus of girl power, seeing as Arete never once runs into men who remotely equal her in intellect and wisdom, but on the other hand it's refreshing to see a film starring a girl who uses her brains instead of fan service to get herself out of tricky situations.
Unfortunately, this movie has one giganto-huge drawback in that it's extremely slow.
I'm really not sure who spiked the animators' and screenwriters' water with sedatives, but Princess Arete runs about thirty or forty minutes longer than it has any right to. The problem is that it takes its sweet time doing anything - long pans of the countryside, long journeys, this film is rife with scenes that simply take too damn long. One of the worst sequences involves the sorcerer and the princess almost competing to see who is more bored. I'd have to call that one a truly inspired moment of animation, right there.
Okay, that may be a bit harsh, but it's frustrating because Princess Arete has so much going for it that it should be a Ghibli-level piece. I imagine if a Miyazaki-level director had taken this on, it would be. However, this movie is directed by Katabuchi Sunao, whose most notable directing credits include Meiken Lassie and (oh dear God above) the American Street Fighter cartoon. Pacing? What is this pacing you speak of? Augh.
With that out of the way, we can concentrate on some of the things Princess Arete does right. The background art is beautiful, though the character design and animation are very simplistic, which fits the "children's novel" motif well but does this no favors in comparison to, say, Kiki's Delivery Service or even Howl's Moving Castle. But at least it's done competently. What makes this work well is the extremely wonderful soundtrack from Senju Akira, which incorporates at least one song performed by Russian songstress Origa. Put that together, and you have a piece that occasionally dares to soar, and Princess Arete is at its best when its heroine is free to do as she pleases. She truly is a clever princess, and Kuwashima Houko does such an earnest job of it that you really have to root for her.
Sadly, the point of the film is that she must overcome prisons, both mental and physical, in order to attain that freedom, and it is in these sequences that the screenplay just drags and drags. It is almost a shame that Boax turns out to be merely selfish and petty rather anything greater ... the "villain" in this piece is never really sympathetic, but never really more than an outside threat, you realize very quickly that Princess Arete can and will outsmart him even with her proverbial hands tied. The outcome almost seems to be a foregone conclusion, and that's what the children's audience is going to be looking for here.
In the end, Princess Arete is a fairly solid fable about a girl's ability to make one's own destiny, but be warned that it may be a bit slow for younger audiences and a bit too obvious for adults, and this really has been done before, with better results.
Or you can tell the critic to stuff it, and just sit back, relax, and enjoy it anyway.
While it could use a bit more screen magic, Princess Arete is still a good film, if you don't mind that the plot is moving at half-speed at all times. — Carlos/Giancarla Ross
Recommended Audience: Apart from very minor non-sexual nudity near the end (not involving the main character), and some mild violence, nothing to worry about. Safe for seven and up.
Version(s) Viewed: digital source
Review Status: Full (1/1)
Princess Arete © 2001 Princess Arete Production Committee
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