Beloved ‘Borrowers’ animates ‘Secret World of Arrietty’
Review • The makers of “Spirited Away” and “Howl’s Moving Castle” bring another classic to big screen.
Published: February 16, 2012 04:30PM
Updated: February 17, 2012 01:58PM
Tiny but tenacious Arrietty (voice of Bridgit Mendler) comes face to whiskers with the menacing household cat, but won’t allow herself to be intimidated by this fussy feline, in Disney’s release of the Studio Ghibli animated feature, “The Secret World of Arrietty.”

It seems foreign animators are the only ones who aren’t getting sucked into the Hollywood vortex of 3-D computer animation.

That certainly is the case for Japanese animation studio Ghibli and director Hayao Miyazaki, who has produced classic hand-animated 2-D films such as “Spirited Away” and “Howl’s Moving Castle.”

Now Miyazaki and Ghibli have released the sumptuous and enchanting “The Secret World of Arrietty,” a splendid journey of curiosity and coming of age by writer Miyazaki and first-time director Hiromasa Yonebayashi.

Based on Mary Norton’s award-winning 1952 children’s novel The Borrowers, “The Secret World of Arrietty” follows a tiny family of “Borrowers,” bug-size people who live under a country house in Japan and borrow only what they need from the human beings. Arrietty (voiced by Bridgit Mendler of the Disney Channel’s “Good Luck Charlie”) is the 14-year-old daughter of the Borrowers family, and she’s warned by her parents never to be seen by the humans, whom they refer to as “beans.”

But one day, she’s noticed by a sickly boy named Shawn (voiced by “Wizards of Waverly Place’s” David Henrie) who has moved into the home to wait for a heart operation. Against the wishes of her parents (voiced by real-life couple Will Arnett and Amy Poehler), Arrietty meets Shawn and learns that he’s lonely and may not survive the operation.

What evolves is a warm and caring love story between the normal-size Shawn and tiny Arrietty as he helps her discover a whole new world beyond the small wooden box she and her family live in under the house.

The sense of awe in “Arrietty” is in seeing our normal world in another scale — a small sewing pin becomes Arrietty’s sword; one sugar cube can feed the small family for a year. One of the best scenes takes place in Shawn’s room when Arrietty and her father try to steal a tissue in the middle of the night, and the tension builds with just the sound of the deep, sonorous ticking of Shawn’s clock.

Drawn with lush, striking colors and the hand-painted artistry that’s nearly extinct in today’s CG-obsessed Hollywood, “The Secret World of Arrietty” (originally released in Japan in 2010) proves you don’t need 3-D glasses and computer wizardry to truly dazzle our senses and ignite our imaginations. And the movie’s sound design punctuates this wondrous world by introducing us to normal everyday sounds from a whole new perspective.

Disney has done a good job of dubbing the voices with its own stable of actors for this U.S. release.

While the youngest of children may not be used to its slower, more deliberate pacing, “The Secret World of Arrietty” is a magical and heartwarming story for older kids and adults. It’s a secret world you will fall in love with.


Secret World of Arrietty

Japanese animation studio Ghibli introduces us to a whole new world of little people in this heartwarming animated tale.

Where • Theaters everywhere

When • Opens today

Rating • G

Running time • 94 minutes