When I was young I loved a tiny family who lived in the walls of someone’s house – The Littles. I read every Little book my local library had, and I thought they were the bees knees. In fact, I would have gone through life blissfully unaware of The Borrowers existence were it not for the watchful eye of my babysitter Kirstin, a gateway to many great books (among other delights, she gave me Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for Christmas).
Kristin loved The Borrowers when she was my age and thought I should give them a try. I soon grew to love Arrietty, Pod, and Homily Clock as much if not more than the Little family. I devoured their adventures Afield, Afloat, and Aloft. I wanted to live underneath the floorboards of a kitchen and be so small a cube of sugar could sweeten my tea for a year. I wanted to ride down a river in a teapot.
Imagine my delight these many years later when I learned that Studio Ghibli, the award winning animation studio behind Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle were adapting The Borrower‘s for the screen!
Now called The Secret World of Arrietty, the movie was released in Japan in 2010 and here in the US just last month. I’ve seen the original Japanese with subtitles and the English dub, and I’m happy to report that Disney has done the same excellent work on the dubbing as they have on previous US releases of Ghibli films. There’s not a “comical” sync issue in sight.
The mostly faithful adaptation follows the plot of the first book (originally published in 1955), although it does update the setting to modern-day Japan. Most of the changes to the plot were insubstantial. One change I really enjoyed was the difference in the character of the boy who discovers the Clock family. Called Shawn in the US version and Sho in the Japanese, he bears little resemblance to The Boy of Norton’s books. This is because he is not a spoiled brat. In the book, a sullen, angry boy is sent home from India to Great Britain due to an illness, and he is resentful and angry, berating Arrietty to the point of tears at one early meeting. Upon rereading the book after seeing the movie, I found The Boy almost intolerable, especially when compared to his gentle screen counterparts. Shawn/Sho seem truly interested in Arrietty and the world she inhabits, rather than cruel and bored. Additionally, the film version of The Boy is not filled with bitterness about his illness. In my opinion this is a vast improvement in character.
As always with Studio Ghibli, the animation in this movie is superb. When Arrietty basks in the sunlight coming in her drain window, you truly feel her joy at its warmth. When she runs through the flowers, you want to join her in celebrating nature. The vocal work is also excellent, especially Amy Poehler as the worried Homily. The entire movie is a delight, and I can’t recommend it enough.
Amusingly, Fox News personality Lou Dobbs warned parents to keep their children away from The Secret World of Arrietty due to its “liberal” message of sharing resources and being kind.