Imagine a world where a fishing hook is as big as a grappling hook, a straight pin is the size of a sword and a sugar cube is as big as your head. This is how the world is for Arrietty, the teenage girl from whom the film “The Secret World of Arrietty” borrows its name.
“The Secret World of Arrietty,” which was released in Japan in 2010 by Studio Ghibli as “The Borrower Arrietty,” is being distributed in the U.S. by Disney and opens Feb. 17.
The film is based on Mary Norton’s book “The Borrowers,” which is the first in a series of children’s novels. The novels tell the story of tiny people who “borrow” items, like sugar cubes and tissues, from humans. The borrowers must avoid being seen by humans, who they mistakenly refer to as “human beans,” so they must go on borrowing missions at night.
In “The Secret World of Arrietty,” Shawn, a human whose parents are getting divorced, suffers from a heart condition for which he must have surgery. He is sent to his great-aunt Jessica’s idyllic home to rest days before his surgery. While there, Shawn discovers Arrietty and her parents, who live under the floorboards of Jessica’s house.
Upon his arrival, Shawn catches a glimpse of Arrietty, who is getting a bay leaf to bring home. Later that night, Arrietty is on her first borrowing mission with her father (Pod), when Shawn sees her again.
In spite of her parents’ warnings, Arrietty begins to develop a friendship with Shawn, while Pod begins making plans to move the family to another home.
Meanwhile, Jessica’s housekeeper, Hara, notices Shawn’s odd behavior and begins to suspect that tales she has heard of tiny people living in the house may be true. Before the borrowers can leave their home, they must avoid being captured by Hara and Arrietty must depend on Shawn to help.
Although “The Secret World of Arrietty” is being distributed by Disney in the U.S., it should not be mistaken for a typical run-of-the-mill princess-in-distress-meets-Prince Charming love story. There are elements of affection in the friendship between Shawn and Arrietty, but there are no wedding bells in their future.
Rather than love, the main theme of the film is the question of whether to accept fate or stand up and fight. Ultimately, Arrietty and Shawn learn from each other how and when to do both of these things.
At first, Shawn’s character seems too frail, almost to a point of being pathetic. However, as his character develops, Shawn begins to seem stronger, making his scenes more enjoyable. Arrietty is a typical, strong-willed teenage girl, in spite of her tininess. She loves her parents, but defies them and learns that even when her actions seem benign, they can lead to long-term consequences. One of the best-acted characters in the film, though, is Hara. Both annoying and humorous, Hara has all the makings of the perfect “bad guy.”
The characters in the upcoming release are voiced by American actors, including Amy Poehler, Will Arnett and Carol Burnett, and the names of the characters are slightly different than those in the Japanese release. However, the U.S. release retains the Japanese animation, which often appears to be more like a still painting with minimal movement than the fast-paced action often seen in Disney films.
“The Secret World of Arrietty” is a kid-friendly movie, no doubt; fortunately it is one that will appeal to adults, too.