THE SECRET WORLD OF ARRIETTY
Directed by: Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Written by: Hayao Miyazaki and Keiko Niwa, based on the novel The Borrowers by Mary Norton
Starring: Bridgit Mendler, David Henrie, Will Arnett, Amy Poehler, and Carol Burnett.
THE SECRET WORLD OF ARRIETTY is the rare kind of animated film that appeals to adults and children alike, is at once non-sensical and surprisingly deep, and showcases the artistry and magic in traditionally drawn animation.
Based on THE BORROWERS by Mary Norton, Arrietty (Bridgit Mendler) is a Borrower, a fourteen year old girl, living a humble existence with her mother Homily (Amy Pohler) and her father Pod (Will Arnett). The only thing that makes Arrietty’s family different is that they are four inches tall and make a living “borrowing”, or taking, things like sugar cubes and tissues from the “human beans” whose walls they occupy. The most essential part of their lives is that they must never be seen by the “beans”, so all of their borrowing is usually done under the cover of night.
Shawn (David Henrie), a sickly young boy, is sent to the country home of a woman named Hara (Carol Burnett, who’s fantastic) to try and relax, and has only his mother’s stories of the people who lived in the walls to keep him company. Meanwhile, Pod takes Arrietty on her first borrowing, in search of a sugar cube and tissue. Shawn spots Arrietty and instead of wanting to capture her, he wants to be her friend and while Arrietty is horrified at first by this idea, and crushed that her father is insistent that they move away, a crisis brings Shawn and Arrietty together.
Arrietty is the kind of character I wish there was more of in film, especially films aimed toward children. She’s smart, creative, loyal to her family, and optimistic about the world in a way that never feels disingenous. It reminded me of Miyzaki’s other female protagonists, all of whom share that strength: Princess Mononoke, Chihiro from SPIRTIED AWAY, and even Ponyo are all the kinds of role models I wish more girls grew up seeing, rather than female characters who are defined by the men in their lives or are reduced to screeching harpies (Bella Swan, Everyone ever played by Katherine Heigl, looking at you.)
Miyazaki’s style of animation, known for it’s incredible level of detail, is ideal for this story, which captures the scale of Arrietty’s world and makes a canyon of a kitchen and a monstrosity out of a crow, which are pretty terrifying to begin with. Down to the tiniest details on pots and pans in a dollhouse, every frame is full of color and life, which only expands further when the action moves to the meadow outside of Hara’s house. THE SECRET WORLD OF ARRIETTY is a testament to the craft and artistry involved in traditional animation, but it never feels nostalgic in the way that WINNIE THE POOH (which was great as well) did. Mostly it makes me hope that both traditionally animated and computer animated films can have more of an equal share of space on the big screen.
While the film, for the most part, is fairly light on narrative, it’s never presented in a way that leaves you bored. Rather, you find yourself caught up in the magic of the world that Miyazaki has put together and when it ended, I was touched by how the ending was sweet, almost bittersweet really, without being saccharine.
THE SECRET WORLD OF ARRIETTY is perfect for all ages, and is ideal for the big screen. It has heart, joy, and the kind of energy that will have you leaving the theater smiling.