The Secret World of Arrietty offers no 3-D, no flashy computer animation and no big-name voice actors. While the movie features nice hand-drawn animation that is visually appealing, with lush, bright colors, the true focus is on the storytelling. The result is a simple, easy-to-follow plot that is bound to hold the attention of both children and adults.
The movie comes from Japan’s Studio Ghibli, the creators of Spirited Away and Ponyo. The movie was released in Japan in 2010 to much popularity and has been updated with new voices and a rewritten script. Visually it looks like anime, though all the names of the characters and the voices are American. Though Arrietty is produced and distributed by Disney here in the U.S., it’s not a big-time Pixar flick, so it likely will fly under the radar, similar to Studio Ghibli’s other productions here in the States.
Based on The Borrowers children’s book series by Mary Norton, The Secret World of Arrietty tells the story of 14-year-old Arrietty (Bridgit Mendler) and her parents (Amy Poehler and Will Arnett), a family of 14-inch-tall people.
They call themselves borrowers because they “borrow” (it really is more like steal) scraps like sugar cubes and tissue from the human beings whose house they live beneath. Yes, the borrowers have their own miniature home under the floorboards of a regular-size human home (and it’s fun to see just how tiny they are and how they go about “borrowing”). The number-one rule for the borrowers is to never be seen by the “beans” because it usually ends up in the untimely demise of the borrower.
When the ailing teenager Shawn (David Henrie) comes to stay with his Aunt Jessica (Gracle Poletti) in preparation for his upcoming heart surgery, he sees Arrietty scampering about on a couple of occasions and wants to know more about her. Slowly, they build a heartwarming secret friendship.
Unfortunately, it’s easy to see that their friendship is basically doomed from the start. In addition to the insistence from Arrietty’s parents that humans are bad news (and that children are even more dangerous than adults), she also faces a threat from Hara (Carol Burnett), the housekeeper and Shawn’s caretaker. The problem is that Hara is adamant about eradicating the little people — that is, if she can find solid proof they actually exist. As the movie’s only villain, Hara wasn’t the most compelling, or even very threatening (and Carol Burnett’s voice and line delivery were certainly more funny than menacing or sinister).
And speaking of voices, Arnett’s deep voice made for a good gruff but loving father, but unfortunately for his real-life wife Amy Poehler, her perky voice didn’t quite match the ho-hum look of the mother.
The Secret World of Arrietty is definitely one of those “fun for the whole family” movies. It’s not the typical boy-meets-girl-and-they-live-happily-ever-after romance, but it is a sweet story with humor and heart. ••
Movie Grade: B+EndFragment