August 3, 2011


Studio Ghibli once again provide us with an animated adventure full of wonder and fun, offering up a richly detailed world based on Mary Norton's children's book sereis, The Borrowers. I have not read any of the books, nor seen the original Hollywood adaptation with John Goodman so, as with Howl's Moving Castle, I am approaching Arrietty only as a film in its own right.

A sickly young boy, Sho, comes to stay at his grandmother’s house to rest up before major surgery. Upon arriving he discovers something unreal and unexpected: he stumbles upon the no-bigger-than-a-mouse girl, Arrietty. Arrietty and her family are Borrowers – they “borrow” small items, unlikely to be missed, from the massive and frightening “human beans”. Arrietty is 14 and beginning to learn to “borrow” on her own when we meet her and the world of her and her Borrower mother and father is beautifully, richly detailed. From the construction of their cosy home under the house, to the background of every scene the work is meticulous and lovingly realised. Everything changes for their family, however, once they know Sho has seen them. There are not many Borrowers left, and the family often fear they may be the last. These lends the film an air of sadness and some poignancy as (as an adult) you cannot help but think that, if there are no other Borrowers around the same age, Arrietty may be the last.

The characters are broadly drawn; with the adventurous Arrietty, her stoic father Pod, her madcap mother Homily, the kindly but somewhat ignorant Shu and the maid of the house Haru who seems intent on capturing the Borrower family. This depiction of Haru is actually one of the biggest problems I had with the film; again the villain of a Ghibli film has rounded features, a broad nose and frankly unclear motivations. She wants to capture the family for... some reason? I don't know. Its never made clear and she seems to be cast as the villain just to have a villain, even if it isn't a particularly effective one. But, as the change in title suggests, this is a film about Arrietty. By bringing the focus quite directly on to her, the filmmakers have given us a wonderfully spirited and courageous character to follow. Though the world of the human beans is strange and frighteningly large, when Arrietty is called upon she doesn't falter or second-guess. 

Director Hiromasa Yonebayashi has worked in key roles on a number of Ghibli films, but this is his directorial debut (also the youngest director to work on a Studio Ghibli film). He's obviously learned a lot in his time at the studio, as he balances adventure, laughs and moments of pure animated cinema. Arrietty is a fun wee adventure film that the kids and adults in the audience enjoyed in equal measure.

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