“The Secret World of Arriety”
“The Borrowers” was originally written in 1952, and there have been many literary and cinematic adaptations ever since, but the concept is a timeless one: the reason things keep disappearing around the house is that there are little people who live under the floor and “borrow” them. The don’t mean anyone any harm, they just take what they need and try to stay out of sight and keep a low profile, so you never see them.
We’ve joked in our family for years about “floor people” that mysteriously make off with stuff that we somehow lost or misplaced or can’t put our fingers on at the moment. That’s why, when the anime film called “The Secret World of Arriety” (“Kari-gurashi no Arietti”) came out, we were eagerly anticipating the Japanese application of this timeless tale. And we were not disappointed.
The artistry, by the same folks who did “Spirited Away” and “Ponyo,” is just wondrous, filled with rich colors like a moving impressionist canvas. The pacing is so deliberate that we seem never to be in a hurry, even in a crisis, and the characters will not fill up your ears with empty chatter. Instead, they frequently just listen, or sometimes respond with a guttural acknowledgement, like “hmmph.” But it’s quiet and peaceful, even in the face of danger.
Arriety (the voice of Bridget Mendler) is the name of the girl “Borrower,” who lives with her Mom, Homily (Amy Poehler), and her Dad, Pod (Will Arnett). Arriety is plenty adventurous, wanting to explore the outdoors, but waiting to sneak inside the big house until her Dad is ready to take her on her first “Borrowing” (a charming rite of passage as long as you don’t think about it too much). Arriety finds a stray stick pin, and uses it as a sword, to ward off the occasional insect or crow who might think she looks like lunch. She accidentally meets one of the “beans” (as in human beings), a boy named Sean (David Henrie), who’s sickly, and his busy parents have dropped him off at Grandma’s, who’s a charming lady with an evil maid, Hara (Carol Burnett). Hara is determined to rid the house of the “pests,” and so she literally calls in an exterminator. Sean manages to thwart Hara, but furtively, without letting her know that he’s on to her, because he’s trying to help out “The Borrowers,” and besides, now that he’s met Arriety, he’d like to talk to her some more.
But as soon as Pod discovers that they’ve been discovered, he insists it’s time to move out and go someplace else, because any contact with humans means serious danger for The Borrowers.
It’s cute and captivating, but it won’t be wise-cracking like “Shrek” or fast-paced like “ Madagascar ” or anthropomorphize inanimate objects like “Cars.” But it’s a charming tale, simply told, at its own speed, and on its own terms. You can take both the little kids and Grandma to this one.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Interim Pastor, St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Irving , Texas