By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
The Secret World of Arrietty is an animated family fable that’s hand-drawn and thus not as flashy as some CGI offerings but that grows on you little by little.
And “little” is the operative word here.
The Clock family are miniature people (four inches tall — we’re talking tiny) who live surreptitiously beneath the floorboards in a regular-sized human family’s residence in contemporary Tokyo.
Arrietty (voiced by Bridgit Mendler), the daughter, is a headstrong 14-year-old who lives with her parents (Amy Poehler and Will Arnett) under a suburban home undetected by anyone in the mansion overhead, including the suspicious housekeeper (Carol Burnett).
That’s because the diminutive lodgers remain out of view unless they need to emerge from underneath the floorboards to “borrow” something they really need to survive from their enormous homeowners (whom they call human “beans”), such as a tissue or a sugar cube.
So, they scavenge for food and for household items that won’t be missed while they are put to ingenious uses, and they try to stay out of the way of cats, crows, and especially beans.
As we first look in on them, it’s that time in life when the tiny teenage title character is about to go out on her first borrowing, accompanied by her dad, for whom the excursion is merely an ordinary errand, while for Arrietty it’s both an adventure and a passage.
But all that changes for the Borrowers when a bedridden 12-year-old named Shawn (David Henrie), who lives with his great-aunt and has a congenital heart condition, discovers and befriends Arrietty.
When Arrietty’s parents learn that they have been discovered, they determine that the Clocks must move out of their host house.
Debuting director Hiromasa Yonebayashi establishes his upstairs-downstairs premise immediately and efficiently, then easily engages his young audience’s sense of wonder with both the beauty and danger of nature.
This animé is an English-language version of 2010’s top-grossing hit at the Japanese box office, known there as The Borrower Arrietty. It’s a perspective-altering delight with a fascinating forced perspective as it explores the theme of the need to investigate the big world out there despite its inherent scariness.
Although it’s somewhat more modestly scaled, it’s in the tradition of such beloved Japanimated favorites as Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke, Mr. Howl’s Castle, and Ponyo, all directed by ani-maestro Hayao Miyazaki.
It’s Miyazaki who developed this film and co-wrote the captivating screenplay with Keiko Niwa based on Mary Norton’s 1952 children’s fantasy novel The Borrowers, that was turned into a live-action film in 1998.
Like those previous versions, this one was inspired by the universal whimsical phenomenon of missing household items and just where they might be disappearing to.
The animation is textured and colorful and generously detailed but delicate, while the thoughtful screenplay speaks to the heart and imagination of children everywhere.
So we’ll borrow 3½ stars out of 4 for this gentle, G-rated, jumbo-shrimp adventure for the kids.
The secret’s out: The Secret World of Arrietty is more than a little enchanting.