Borrow Some Small Wonder: The Secret World of Arrietty

I do not have time to write a proper review of this wonderful movie, so let me just gush. Think of some of the better Disney movies you saw a a child, or some of the better Hayao Miyazaki films.  This is on par with that. I think every man should, upon reading these words, go get married, father a fourteen year old daughter, and take her to see this film. That is what I did. Okay, well I did not get married JUST for this film, but it made me glad I was a Dad. It is one of the few where the relationship between a stern and loving father and a willful yet obedient daughter is done right.

It is based on the book THE BORROWERS by Mary Norton (which I read as a child, but, alas, do not remember). The conceit is that some houses have little people living under the floor or in the walls who ‘borrow’ small items humans think we only misplaced. The charm of the original illustrations in the book are here given magic and glamor by exquisite execution: I watched in fascination scenes where the tiny Borrowers poured tea (made from a single leaf) from a toy teapot into doll house cups, and the artist remembered to scale up the water tension so that the water drops were as big as softballs to the little people, and flowed like magical pearls.

The typical Miyazaki care and detail lavished on every frame is here most evident. Miyazaki and company love drawing insects, crows and cats, particularly on a giant scale.

One scene showing the young Borrow girl Arrietty, climbing a vine. The art showed every vein on every leaf and the water droplets from a late rain sliding as the wind across the housetop blew. She turns and looks out upon the back yard, but instead of a back yard, it was as fabulous, seeing it through her eyes, as elfland.

It takes true magic to made stealing a lump of sugar and a single tissue into an adventure across the grand canyon like spaces of an enchanted giant’s castle.

The plot is simple. A young man, resting up before an operation he fears he may not survive, spends his days while his uncaring parents are away in his mother’s old house, under the care of a servant. His grandfather believed in the little people, and so does the young man. Meanwhile, Arrietty and her parents fear they may be the last Borrowers alive in the world, and the father strictly enjoins the daughter not to take foolish risks, neither to show herself to any humans — for if they are seen, even once, the Borrowers must abandoned their beloved home and flee.

And, of course, when the young human sees Arrietty on her first mission out into the vastness of the human house …

I don’t think it ruins any surprise to reveal that both the young Borrower and the young human are curious about the other, and want to befriend each other, but their two worlds want to separate them. This is not a film about action and plot twists. The scenes unfold slowly and deliberately.

I will mention Spiller, who is an ‘outside’ Borrower, who lives not in a human house, but in the wild, as even though he has less than half a dozen lines, comes across as noble and romantic a figure as Ashitaka from Princess Mononoke (who, come to think of it, he dressed somewhat like.)

The English dub was done with Disney’s characteristic attention to detail as their other Miyazaki dubs, with professional voice actors whose performances blend smoothly into the animated expressions and lip movements. There were certain places I suspect Disney put in dialog where I thought a more Japanese moment of silence would have been better.

See this movie in the theater. Bring your family. Buy popcorn. Let us by all means reward Hollywood with our entertainment dollars when they do something right.

My only complaint is an absurdly small one. I like the title THE BORROWERS. The title in Japanese is ‘The Borrower Arrietty’. The decision to change this to ‘The Secret World of Arrietty’ strikes me as being a little tin-eared.

I will not provide a link to the trailer, which I think spoils all the surprises in the film in a ham-handed way. But I will insert some stills.