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When sickly young Shawn comes to visit
His Aunt Jessica in the woods,
He sees a small lass
Swiftly pass in the grass
With an armful of miniature goods.
This “Borrower” is named Arrietty,
Who lives with her mother and dad.
They live under the house
As discrete as a mouse,
But Homily’s scared of the lad.
Pod calms his poor wife and her worries
And leaves with his daughter to borrow.
Arrietty is quite
Animated tonight,
But excitement soon changes to sorrow.
She loses a gained sugar cube,
And much worse, she is sighted by Shawn.
The girl’s disenchanted
And leaves empty-handed,
But Pod comforts her once they’ve gone.
From then on, Shawn tries to leave gifts,
Like the sugar cube he’d seen her drop.
Her dad is suspicious,
For humans are vicious,
So she tells the boy he should stop.
When a crow almost gets Arrietty,
Shawn saves her and earns growing trust.
He donates some wares
From a dollhouse upstairs,
Which leaves the girl’s parents nonplussed.
Pod feels that they now have to leave.
Arrietty then tells Shawn goodbye.
He tries to impart
That he has a weak heart,
But the girl says to live, or to try.
But Hara, Aunt Jessica’s maid,
Has suspected small people for years.
She searches with care
And finds Homily there
And grabs her, confirming their fears.
She puts Homily in a jar
And calls Pest Control to catch more.
When she sees her mom’s gone,
Arrietty, with Shawn,
Sneaks out from behind a locked door.
She locates her mother and frees her.
The maid later searches in vain.
Any vestige or trace,
Shawn was quick to erase
So that Hara looks rather insane.
The Borrowers quickly depart
With help from a boy of their race.
Arrietty and Shawn
Say farewell at the dawn.
Shawn suspects they found some safer place.

The Secret World of Arrietty, one of Studio Ghibli’s more recent efforts, is a sweet film that successfully shrinks the audience to see an ordinary house as a place of danger and wonder. Staples become ladder rungs; pins become swords; roly-polies become balls; and a single bay leaf can last a year. Ghibli’s typically whimsical imagination is given free rein here to create an almost magical world within our own.

The animation is almost on the level of Howl’s Moving Castle, and the studio continues to deliver beautiful hand-drawn films with amazingly detailed backgrounds. The Borrowers’ home is especially well drawn. The English dub is pretty good as well, though it doesn’t have as many big name stars as other Ghibli films. Bridget Mendler as Arrietty, Will Arnett as Pod, and Carol Burnett as Hara particularly fill their roles well, though characters go “hmm” a bit too frequently. Also, while it’s based on an English book series and the location has been moved to Japan, the music has a distinctly Celtic air to it that is quite lovely.

While there are some who will have a problem with the fact that the Borrowers steal for a living, it is not much of an issue for me since (a) their size and vulnerability warrant it, and (b) they make a point of only taking things that will not be missed. (Others have delved deeper into the moral implications, such as film critic Steven Greydanus.)

A good point that makes up for this ambiguous aspect is Arrietty’s respect for her parents. Several times, she compliments her mother and father and shows them the honor that is noticeably lacking in Western cartoons. In the end, both of their views on humans are vindicated; Arrietty is proven right in that not all humans are bad (Shawn), but her parents’ fears are clearly warranted since others (like Hara) are not as trustworthy. This end stands in marked contrast to the kid-is-always-right mentality of most American animation.

One minor issue is the film’s pacing. While it’s fascinating to explore Arrietty’s miniature world, the film borders on becoming boring at times. Thus, some kids and adults who require constant jokes or explosions in their entertainment won’t be able to stick with it. Still, it has better visuals and more of a plot than Ghibli’s more acclaimed but less interesting children’s movie My Neighbor Totoro.

Offering new perspectives and touching on some more mature subjects like death and survival, The Secret World of Arrietty is a charming recent reminder of the magic that hand-drawn animation can achieve.

Best line: (Arrietty, when Shawn talks about resigning oneself to fate) “Sometimes you have to stand up and fight for the things that are worth fighting for. You have to survive. That’s what my papa says.”

Artistry: 7
Characters/Actors: 6
Entertainment: 5
Visual Effects: 8
Originality: 7
Watchability: 5
Other (slow pace): -6
TOTAL:  32 out of 60

Next: #290: The Quick and the Dead (1987)

© 2014 S. G. Liput