‘The Secret World of Arrietty’ a grand adventure through small eyes

By Larissa Gula

Everyone loves a good adventure… “The Secret World of Arrietty”

Directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi

Starring Bridgit Mendler, David Henrie, Will Arnett

Grade: B+

Everyone loves a good adventure. And a journey experienced through the eyes of a girl no more than a few inches tall who lives under the floorboards of a house is one of the biggest adventures movie audiences can go on.

“The Secret World of Arrietty” — originally titled “The Borrower Arrietty” — finally debuted in the United States two years after its Japanese release. This marks the widest distribution of a film by Studio Ghibli — sort of like Japan’s Pixar — in the United States.

Based on first book in Mary Norton’s children’s series “The Borrowers,” the film focuses on the Clock family, a group of three people who are almost exactly like normal humans — except for the fact that they measure no more than four inches tall.

The Clocks live underneath a country house in Japan. The main character, 14-year-old Arrietty (Bridgit Mendler), is a free spirit who often ventures outside of the safety of the family’s tiny home to gather flowers and herbs, despite the constant risk of being eaten by cats or birds — or worse, being spotted by a normal human.

This is exactly what happens, though, when a boy named Shawn (David Henrie) arrives in the country. Shawn, plagued with a weak heart and preparing to undergo surgery, spots little Arrietty while she and her father (Will Arnett) are “borrowing,” or collecting supplies within the house in the middle of the night.

While Shawn is curious about the little family and desperate for friends to talk to, the Clocks face a difficult decision. According to the rules of the Borrowers, as soon as they are seen, the small family should move immediately to avoid trouble. As the Borrowers struggle to make a decision, Shawn continues to try to contact and even help them in any way he can — and the housekeeper, Hara, (Carol Burnett) begins to suspect that there are uninvited guests.

Surprisingly, relatively little happens in terms of tension and action during this film — the extent of these occur when Arrietty avoids being eaten by a cat and a crow, as well as when Hara slowly closes in on the family of Borrowers. Still, the feelings of wonder and excitement that come with going on an adventure shine through because of the amazing world created on screen. It’s a very recognizable world, and yet, seen through Arrietty’s eyes, the mundane becomes marvelous and fanciful.

Like all Studio Ghibli films, “Arrietty” features fantastic animation. Fans of the studio have come to expect hand-drawn animation mixed with water-colored landscapes, and “Arrietty” does not disappoint, as the artwork highlights basic details like texture on normal household items, giving the film a feeling of authenticity.

Additionally, Ghibli films have an uncanny ability to touch on several important themes, and “Arrietty” is no exception. Viewers can expect the characters to deal with friendship across cultural divides, the discussion of recycling versus stealing, illness and the finality of death, and even an — admittedly brief — look at the plight of refugees.

Great characters are also what fans have come to expect from Ghibli films. Arrietty perfectly balances the emotions of a young girl with strength and courage. Her trademark outfit throughout the film — a red dress, boots and a pin that rests at her side like a sword — only highlights her strong personality.

Balancing out the cast, Arrietty’s father acts as a calm leader, and her mother as the worrying caretaker. The housekeeper, whose cackle is as menacing as her size to the Borrowers, adds the right amount of tension while also providing an element of humor.

What’s arguably missing in this film is magic, which has appeared in most of Ghibli’s past films. And while Ghilbi’s films almost always take place in fantastic lands inspired by Japanese myth, “Arrietty” takes place in the real world.

But this is not necessarily a bad thing. Looking at a home through the eyes of a tiny, passionate girl is certainly not boring, especially when the animators take the time to emphasize the slightest of details. This is a world where postage stamps become wall decorations and small droplets of water amount to heavy bucket loads. Kitchen counters become mountains for Arrietty and her father to rappel down, curtains become cliffs that need to be scaled, and a field of old forgotten nails and staples form stairs and stepping-stones.

Through sheer scaling and strong characterization, the normal world has become foreign, strange and magical. So while “The Secret World of Arrietty” lacks the intensity of Ghibli films like “Princess Mononoke” and “Spirited Away,” it remains an enjoyable piece of work that breaks step with typical computer-animated children’s films, opting for a slower — but still grand — adventure.