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The Secret World of Arrietty
Starring: Bridgit Mendler, Amy Poehler, Will Arnett, Carol Burnett
Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi, Gary Rydstrom
Running Time: 80 minutes
Studio Ghibli
Rated: G
Opening Date: February 17, 2012
Reviewed by Chris R. Paige

Also translated as The Borrower Arietti (Kari-gurashi no Arietti), this breathtakingly lovely film from Studio Ghibli is a masterpiece. Based on the The Borrowers series of children’s books by Mary Norton, it is the story of a family of extremely tiny people who live in the behind and underneath places of an old house. They call themselves “Borrowers” and they pick up the dropped and discarded things that go missing – a phenomenon familiar to householders – and put them to extremely clever, inventive uses. I loved the earrings used as grappling hooks, the stamps as artwork, and a round head pin that makes a very effective sword for the young heroine.

Arrietty and her parents, Pod and Homily, are the only Borrowers left in a house that used to be the home of many. Arrietty is just old enough to go on her first official Borrow – their sugar bowl is empty – and Homily requests a sheet of Kleenex too. For years the only human around has been a caretaker named Haru, but a boy has arrived, Sho, who is weakened by a heart condition that could kill him at any moment. His mother has sent him to the old family house for rest. Sho is weak, but observant, and he spies young Arrietty as she navigates the garden on a quest to bring home a bay laurel leaf and some mint. Arrietty is terrified that having been seen will jeopardize her status as an active Borrower, but over time Sho proves a true friend. Haru, however, becomes suspicious and sets out to trap the minikins whose existence she has long suspected. Pod and Homily must make the tough call: stay in danger or risk danger to find a new home where other Borrowers may be.

The charm of this movie is threefold: first, the tenderness between Sho and the adventuresome Arrietty: there is a love story here, the kind where love proves stronger than fear or difference, and strengthens the ones who love; second, the details of the lives of the Borrowers as they negotiate an outsize world, liberating cubes of sugar and trekking through dense jungles of grass and shrubbery; and third, the gorgeousness of the garden and other backgrounds, including a dollhouse that was lovingly crafted by Sho’s grandfather and young mother for the little people they had once glimpsed. Any child – or adult – who has ever hunkered down to look closely at the world of roots and bugs and the close construction of things will love this movie. Both my 16-year-old daughter and my 8-year-old son were rapt.

A few hardcore adrenaline junkies who opine that Cars 2 was the ne plus ultra of film-making may be inured to the enchantment of The Secret World of Arrietty, but I’ll nominate it for 2012’s Animation Oscar over anything Pixar puts forth this year. – Chris R. Paige

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