Borrowers are tiny people who secretly co-exist with regular-sized humans. To survive, they live as hidden tenants within a human’s home, borrowing from them discarded-turned-essential items that would go unnoticed when missing.
One day, the somewhat peaceful life of the minuscule Clock family is compromised when a young boy moves into the home they inhabit and discovers the existence of their daughter Arrietty.
For a borrower, living in a world filled with giants is hard enough. For soon to be 14-year-old Arrietty (voiced by Bridgit Mendler), not yet knowing what her giant-dominated world has to offer is torture. She is curious and bold, a budding flower ready to bloom with exploration. But her youth and forced anonymity restrains her. She wants to believe that the world and its giant beans (humans) is not as completely threatening as her strong, family-providing father Pod (voiced by Will Arnett) and oft-worried mother Homily (voiced by Amy Poehler) make it out to be. Her accidental and fateful encounter with a sickly teenage bean named Shawn (voiced by David Henrie) introduces her to the world she has been clamoring to meet; however, sacrifices are made in the process, and peril—mainly caused by Hara (voiced by Carol Burnett), the opportunistic housekeeper desperate to prove her sanity—is encountered along the way.
The story of The Secret World of Arrietty comes from Mary Norton’s 1952 children’s novel, The Borrowers. Adapted a few times in the past, famed Studio Ghibli gave it the animation treatment in 2010, titling it as Karigurashi no Arrietty (The Borrower Arrietty). As expected from the high quality animation studio and its staff—notably made up of veteran animator and first-time director Hiromasa Yonebayashi and writer/production planner/Ghibli legend Hayao Miyazaki—the world of Arrietty is filled with breathtaking hand-drawn and computer generated visuals and scenic juxtaposition. The nature which surrounds the cottage the film is set at is rich and lush, scattered with bustling wildlife and guarded by a robust cat. Contents within the cottage are extravagant and timeless.
How Yonebayashi and company captures the world through the eyes of a borrower is the beauty and crowning achievement of Arrietty. What may seem like a mundane cottage to normal people, is a grand, harrowing castle ripe with adventure and danger for our tiny characters. Clocks tick and tock loudly, its dongs deafening; inside of walls are like intimidating dungeons needing to be traversed carefully and are home to giant red-eyed rats and unsuspecting bugs; electrical sockets are like doorways, providing entrance/exit points all throughout the house; the kitchen is a giant chasm filled with wind-induced echoes and treasures ready to be borrowed; etc.
English dubbing in previous Ghibli imports have been satisfying. It is neither harmful or harmless in Arrietty. Mendler is fresh and does a solid job with Arrietty, Poehler’s comedic charm transfers over to momma Homily. Meanwhile, Arnett is stoic and barely recognizable as father Pod, and Henrie at times provides Shawn with emotionless dialogue. A couple of Shawn’s exchanges with Arrietty, in particular, feel awkward, possibly due to the difficulty of the dub timing. Casual fans may pay it no mind, while experienced anime watchers will be quick to pick up on it.
Similar to most non-Miyazaki-directed Ghibli flims, Arrietty is not so much magical as it is practical. Deep down, the narrative is rooted with friendship, loneliness, acceptance, growth and faith. The relationship between Arrietty and Shawn, while a bit underdeveloped and prone to misinterpretation, help each other tackle those themes. Each have qualms about life and the world they live in. Each need the other to be able to believe.
GO Rating: 4/5
The Secret World of Arrietty is a beautiful film inhabited by borrowers and beans reluctant to share their world with one another. It is a world worth experiencing in theaters.