The Studio Ghibli adaptation of Mary Norton’s The Borrowers, The Secret World Of Arrietty, is a tiny tale told extraordinarily well.
Written by the legendary Hayao Miyazaki [Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro], The Secret World of Arrietty is the story of a ‘Borrower’ girl named Arrietty [voiced by Bridget Mendler] who’s discovery by a sickly boy named Shawn [David Henrie] leads to a brief but memorable friendship.
When young Shawn is sent to his aunt’s house in the country to rest before a heart operation, he spots Arrietty but doesn’t quite believe his eyes. Arrietty, in turn, thinks she’s avoided detection and returns to her cozy home in a crawlspace under the house – where her near-paranoid mother, Homily [Amy Poehler] and stoic father, Pod [Will Arnett] hear of her exploits.
Shawn’s arrival nearly prevents Arrietty’s first expedition to ‘borrow,’ but she persuades them she’ll be careful and stick close to her dad. The expedition shows us the house from a Borrower’s perspective and it’s pretty awe-inspiring – especially when they pass through a doll house to give us a comparison to relate to.
Shawn’s Aunt Jessica [Grace Poletti] tells Shawn that his mother was certain that there were little people living in the walls of the house, and that his grandfather built the dollhouse in hopes that they’d live in it. The housekeeper, Hara [Carol Burnett], has plans of her regarding the little people – plans that jeopardize Arrietty’s family. But if the Borrower family discover they’ve been seen, they will have to move on.
First-time director Hiromasa Yonebayashi was an animator on several of Miyazaki’s films, so he’s learned from the best. The contrast of the elegantly simple character drawings with incredibly details sets is a hallmark of Miyazaki – as is the way Yonebayashi shifts between the same kind of detail when in close-up on the Borrowers outdoors and the Monet-like impressionism of the larger areas. The manner in which the Borrowers use the things they ‘borrow’ is a wonder of improvisation and invention. He has created a truly delightful and wonderful world.
The pacing may be a little slow for North American audiences, but it allows for the characters of Shawn and Arrietty to be well developed and makes for great tension in the few sequences that place the characters in real jeopardy.
The Secret World Of Arrietty is an simple, straightforward tale told extraordinarily well. That alone makes it worth checking out.
Final Grade: A+
Photo courtesy of Walt Disney Studios and Studio Ghibli