Animated movies for children have of course long been a profitable venture for many movie makers, especially if the film attracts and charms not only the children but the parents who bring them. We now have a Disney film that is in fact an import of sorts…. the Secret World of Arrietty, based on the Japanese Novel whose English title is, loosely, ‘The Borrowers’. Here is the basic storyline of the movie….
“Arrietty (Bridgit Mendler), a tiny, but tenacious 14-year-old, lives with her parents (Will Arnett and Amy Poehler) in the recesses of a suburban garden home, unbeknownst to the homeowner and her housekeeper (Carol Burnett). Like all little people, Arrietty (AIR-ee-ett-ee) remains hidden from view, except during occasional covert ventures beyond the floorboards to “borrow” scrap supplies like sugar cubes from her human hosts. But when 12-year-old Shawn (David Henrie), a human boy who comes to stay in the home, discovers his mysterious housemate one evening, a secret friendship blossoms. If discovered, their relationship could drive Arrietty’s family from the home and straight into danger.”
The film credits show a lot of Japanese names, including the producer, and it is interesting that the film, though made largely for a Western audience tries to maintain a balance between authenticity when it comes to the Japanese origins and appeal to Westerners. The characters in the film mostly do not look Oriental, but their customs certainly are— they take off their shoes when they enter the house, they drink a lot of tea, they eat rice with chopsticks, but they speak and facially look like Americans, especially in the case of Arrietty herself. But then again the film is done using the ‘Anime’ style of illustration which is so popular in the Orient. In other words, the film is an interesting example of East meets West.
The story is refreshing and interesting– the plight of the tiny Borrowers, in a world of giant ‘Beings’ (i.e human beings). The Borrowers are about the size of Tinkerbell, and so cats, mice, even grasshoppers are threats. It seems that literature has always had a fascination for ‘the wee folk’ whether we are talking about the Lilliputians, the seven dwarfs, the hobbits, or the ‘Borrowers’. The ‘Borrowers’ however are just small human beings, not another species of creature at all, and they live under the noses, houses, and on the resources of the ‘Beings’ whom they try to avoid altogether. Alas, such a code is hard to live by when you are a 14 year old girl full of curiosity.
The story revolves around a sick young man named Sean and Arrietty, whom he tries to befriend and help. It has its touching moments, and there are scenes where the garden flowers are beautiful, but for me, the anime technique leaves the central characters too bland and washed out in color, shape, depth. Had they looked more like the poster (see above), it might have made a bigger impact on me.
Nevertheless, this film is well worth seeing, is certainly family friendly, and could be said to be an exposition of Cat Steven’s old song ‘Wild World’— You know the one that goes….
“O baby, baby it’s a wild world, and its hard to get by just upon a smile girl’. Well yes, especially for the Borrowers, it is a wild and dangerous world, and the fact that they are friendly little beings minding their own business is not enough. You need friends, in this case, friends in high places, big friends. Friends like Sean to protect you from the slings and arrows of all sorts of other big creatures.
This film lasts only an hour and 34 minutes but it seemed longer because it had lots of space, and calm, in it, rather like a visit to a Japanese garden. This is not an action flick, and if your child requires loud noises or distractions every 15 minutes or so, or funny scenes and characters, or dramatic music (the music here is an odd combination of oriental and middle eastern string music) say like the penguin movies or Madagascar, then this is not the film for you.
But if your child can be sucked into a good story with good characters and wonder, then this film is definitely for you. It has style and grace, and yes, something in it for parents to think about as well, namely that the wee people seem far more human and normal and appealing than most of the ‘grown up’ beings. The child is father to the man….or so they say. Or living little is the new living large.