Susan Granger’s review of “The Secret World of Arrietty” (Walt Disney Pictures)
Based on Mary Norton’s beloved children’s book series “The Borrowers,” this is about a race of miniscule people who live, undetected, in a secret world that’s in harmony with nature.
Tiny, red-haired Arrietty Clock (voiced by Bridgit Mendler) is a curious, courageous 14 year-old who hides with her parents, Homily and Pod (voiced by Amy Poehler and Will Arnett), beneath a pile of bricks in the subterranean recesses of a cozy country cottage, unbeknownst to the cranky human housekeeper Hara (voiced by Carol Burnett). Occasionally, however, it’s necessary for members of her family to leave their sanctuary to “borrow” supplies, like a hairpin, a thimble, a sliver of cheese or a single sugar cube, always careful to remain unnoticed. But a secret friendship forms when sickly, lonely 12 year-old Shawn (voiced by David Henrie) discovers Arrietty (pronounced AIR-ee-ett-ee) who is out on a foraging mission. Suspecting that Borrowers, who stand only four-inches tall, have been on the premises for many years, sensitive Shawn gives them an elaborately small-scaled dollhouse that his grandfather made – with working electric lights and ovens. But, eventually, the safety of Arrietty’s entire family is threatened by Hara’s wrath, and they’re forced to move out.
Written by Hayao Miyazaki (“Spirited Away”) and Keiko Niwa, it’s directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi at Japan’s Studio Ghibli, which specializes in lush, hand-drawn, color-drenched animation, and adapted into English by screenwriter Karey Kirkpatrick (“Spiderwick Chronicles,” “Over the Hedge”) with Americanized vocals directed by Oscar-winning sound designer/mixer Gary Rydstrom (“Terminator 2: Judgment Day”).
Under Miyazaki’s meticulous supervision, Yonebayashi’s wondrously detailed use of scale is delightful, as he transforms an ordinary pin into a sword, for example, and turns the rustle of leaves into a roar, effectively illustrating the pastoral fragility and vulnerability of the little Borrowers. It’s easy to understand why this became the highest grossing film in Japan in 2010, winning their Animation of the Year Award.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Secret World of Arrietty” is a gently enchanting 8, an extraordinary adventure.