The Secret World of Arrietty | Film review
Hayao Miyazaki and Mary Norton make an appealing combination.
The Secret World of Arrietty is a simpler and more accessible creation than most of what we’ve seen stateside from Japan’s Studio Ghibli. Based on Mary Norton’s celebrated children’s novel The Borrowers, it’s credited with “planning and scripting” by animator Hayao Miyazaki and has been directed by one of Miyazaki’s longtime collaborators. If it lacks the freedom and surreality one finds in such Miyazaki films as Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle, it goes down more smoothly as storytelling, with a straightforward adventure plot that gives it near-universal appeal.
The material is ideally suited for animation. A “borrower,” or tiny human, Arrietty (Bridgit Mendler) lives below the floorboards of a country house with her mother (Amy Poehler) and father (Will Arnett). She’s experiencing the first pangs of teenage rebellion, and the arrival of a sickly human boy (David Henrie) only stokes her sense of curiosity and adventure. Her mischief making keeps the suspense level high, but the film’s pleasures also derive from its sights: Arrietty and her father climbing treacherous loose nails on a sugar-hunting mission, the young girl hastily jimmying open a window that has a bolt as big as she is. A hit in Japan, the movie gives the slight sense of being a calculated crossover, but this is the sort of poignant charmer Disney has forgotten how to make.