“The Secret World of Arrietty” is everything you’d expect from a Studio Ghibli film: charming and lovely with a strong moral message.
Hayao Miyazaki didn’t direct this adaptation of the classic kids book “The Borrowers,” but he did write and “plan” it, so it’s in good hands.
It’s the story of Arrietty, a 14-year-old Borrower, a tiny race of people who live inside the walls and under the floors of larger humans’ houses and “borrow” the things they need to survive, careful to make sure they don’t take more than they need and nothing that will be missed.
But if a “bean” discovers them, they have to move and stay hidden. Can you imagine what the government would do if they found one of these families?
Anyway, on her first borrowing outing with her father, Pod, Arrietty is spotted by Shawn, a human boy staying at his aunt’s country house to rest up before a heart operation.
The pace is fairly leisurely, even for a Ghibli film, but you’ll delight in the details: the way the wind rustles through the ivy on the side of the house, the way surface tension affects the tea the Borrowers pour from their tiny tea pots, the faces on the cat. It’s an attention you expect in computer-animated films but don’t always get in hand-drawn titles any more.
The many kids in the audience when I saw it Saturday morning seemed fully engaged, even with the flash of CGI and the snarky humor.
The little moments carry enough tension, and Ghibli is the master of facial expressions in its film. Every surprise, every bit of fear, every show of motherly love is projected on those wonderful faces, at least for the Borrowers.
Shawn is a bit of a wet noodle. His face is mostly blank, as is the voice work by David Henrie (“Wizards of Waverly Place”). Henrie is a lot more animated on that Disney show, so it must have been on purpose, but Shawn kind of drags the film down.
Luckily, we’ve got Carol Burnett as Hara, the wacky, Borrower-obsessed maid. She’s a hoot of a villain. Arrietty is voiced by Bridgit Mendler (also on “Wizards of Waverly Place”), and she does a fine job. Sitcom actors Amy Poehler and Will Arnett are Arrietty’s parents, Arnett unrecognizable as the stoic Pod.
I doubt it will happen, but I think it would be grand if the British dub gets included on the U.S. video release, in addition to the original Japanese. I think it would be fun to hear, especially since the original author, Mary Norton, was British, and this is the kind of story you expect to see in the British countryside.
Luckily, “Arrietty” got a wider release instead of being stuck in the art houses, as sometimes happens with the Ghibli releases. Go see it while you can.