A tiny movie with outsize charms
By Amy Joyce
Friday, Feb. 17, 2012
"The Secret World of Arrietty" isn't (gasp) in 3-D. It isn't Pixared-to-death or loud enough to blow the popcorn out of your 20-gallon bucket.
But this gorgeous little movie is sure to be beloved by your little people, who may discover what it means to find a magical beauty in the things we can't altogether see.
"Arrietty," based on Mary Norton's children's book series "The Borrowers," is the story of tiny people who live under floorboards and swipe what they need from the Beans (what they call humans) upstairs. A piece of delicious art, much like the other films from legendary filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki ("Spirited Away," "Ponyo") and Studio Ghibli, it was the highest-grossing Japanese film in Japan in 2010 - despite its lack of Hollywood tricks.
Each frame is a gift. Flowing grasses, watercolor wildflowers twitching in the breeze, a burbling stream, the sound of raindrops as they make their first marks on the sidewalk. The images are just vivid enough to allow the audience to imagine the fragrance of a newly dampened sidewalk, rather than be pummeled over the head by a storm so real that there's no room to imagine anything. And among all of this beauty is a pretty little plot. There's not as much of an edge-of-the-seat factor as in some of Miyazaki's other films - or in most box office hits these days. But do audiences need to be, well, blown away? Can't they actually enjoy a relatively quiet movie?
Arrietty (voiced by Bridgit Mendler of Disney Channel's "Good Luck Charlie") is a 14-year-old Borrower who shows us from the first scene that she has pluck, sneaking through the grass midday, with a bay leaf as cover, and standing up to the fat cat that has been stalking her. She's eager to go along with her serious father (Will Arnett) on a nighttime expedition into the Beans' house to fetch a sugar cube and one tissue.
This is much to the dismay of her hysterical mother (voiced by Amy Poehler, who is haha hysterical as well), who tells Arrietty about cousins who have disappeared and her fears that her husband will be eaten by a cat.
Arrietty goes with her dad anyway but is spotted by sickly boy Shawn (David Henrie), who tries to befriend her. She's sure he means no harm, but once Borrowers have been seen, they must leave their home and find a new one. Arrietty is overcome with guilt and frustration.
There are misadventures along the way, including a run-in with the housekeeper, Hara (Carol Burnett reprising a bit of her Miss Hannigan traits), that show just how heroic our little heroine is. As in: smart, bring-your-daughter-to-this heroic.
The end isn't quite tied up in perfect sparkly pink bows, but is left slightly up to us and our atrophied imaginations. Remember what that feels like?
Exactly. Makes me want to sigh, too.
Upon leaving the theater, a girl of about 6 turned to her grandmother and said dreamily, "That.Was.The.Best.Movie.Ever."
And that sums up why this little movie is so very big.
Contains mild animated peril.