Small in stature, big in heart: The Secret World of Arrietty, or The Borrowers

After watching The Secret World of Arrietty in theaters this weekend, I’m convinced that I’ve read the book it’s based on. For those unfamiliar with Studio Ghibli films, they’re a line of wonderfully animated Japanese movies (translated into English) that contain enough humor and charm to entertain viewers of any age. They’re not like most anime. You won’t see girls with bouncing cleavage or similar tropes common to the medium that tend to turn off non-otaku-loving audiences. Rather, these movies showcase a love of nature and an appreciation for life’s simpler pleasantries. These emotional, heartfelt stories have become known for their excellent sense of character and imaginative worlds.

Hayao Miyazaki, who wrote the screenplay for The Secret World of Arrietty, is probably the most talented of the Studio Ghibli crew. He’s written and directed the best productions the studio has to offer, such as Howl’s Moving Castle, Princess Mononoke, and My Neighbor Totoro (all favorites of mine). I’ve found that the move sway Miyazaki has over a movie, the better it is.

Miyazaki didn’t direct The Secret World of Arrietty (released in Japan in 2010), but the film is worth seeing regardless. This was my first screening of a Studio Ghibli film in theaters, and being exposed to other movies in the collection, I should have known that the faster scenes of animation, where the camera pans quickly over the scenery, would be a problem on the big screen. I’m not fluent in technicalities, but the frame rate or the standard definition causes the blurry animation during these moments. Thankfully, they are few, and it doesn’t prevent the movie from looking gorgeously colored, expertly detailed, and generally amazing.

Like some other Studio Ghibli films, The Secret World of Arrietty takes awhile to reach its full stride. Overall, it isn’t one of the best movies the studio has produced, but it is enjoyable and possesses all of the aforementioned qualities that separate Studio Ghibli from other animation companies of its class.

Interesting fact: The movie fared better than Ponyo, reaching a bigger audience and earning more in its opening weekend, but both are marred by bad pop songs. If you’ve seen the ending credits of Ponyo, then you know what I’m talking about.

Anyway, I wanted to point out the book this movie is adapted from: The Borrowers by English author Mary Norton. I swear I’ve read this book as a kid. The book (and the movie) is about tiny people called “Borrowers” who live in people’s houses and take things that they need to survive—a lump of sugar here, a piece of string there. But a Borrower can never be seen by human beings, and that’s the source of trouble in the story.

The Borrowers (published in 1952) won a Carnegie Medal and was ranked among CILIP Carnegie’s top ten children’s books in 2007, beside classics like Northern Lights (The Golden Compass in North America) by Philip Pullman. Four sequels followed the book, recounting the additional adventures of the Clock family: The Borrowers Afield, Afloat, Aloft, and Avenged.

There has been a made-for-TV movie (1973), a BBC series (1992), a live-action film (1997), and a BBC production with Stephen Fry (2011)—none of them nearly as successful as The Secret World of Arrietty seems to be, and maybe that’s because an animated movie just makes more sense for a story this fantastical in nature. Anything else is going to look like Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.

What do you think of The Secret World of Arrietty and other Studio Ghibli films? Have you read The Borrowers?

8 thoughts on “Small in stature, big in heart: The Secret World of Arrietty, or The Borrowers

  1. Sigh….I’d give anything to write even half as good as you do.

    Brilliant review Stephanie. Your description makes me want to check out the movie…it would be my first anime. It sounds like something I’d enjoy. The books too! Love that you introduce me to things I wouldn’t find otherwise on my own. How fun is that?? I appreciate it too :) Thank you.

    1. Aw you’re so sweet, Sarah. I’m actually not satisfied with my writing in this post, but as long as my readers like it, then I’ll take that as a compliment and keep doing my best. :) If you’ve never watched anime, then you can’t go wrong with the Studio Ghibli films. They’re VERY approachable and tame (as far as anime-isms go) and overall easy to like.

  2. And here’s another reader who also admires your writing, Stephanie. Once again, I learn so much. This time, it’s about anime, of which I know nothing, but now have a frame of reference. Truly, your blog is a marvel and so refreshing.

    The Borrowers sounds familiar to me as well but can’t remember the context.

    Again, thanks so much, Stephanie.

    Karen

  3. The Borrowers was the very first book that I owned, received as a gift many years ago (although not so many that it’s a first edition). Very nice review. This makes me want to see the movie, which I hadn’t even heard of.

    1. Thank you, Leslie! And what a wonderful gift to receive. :) If you see the movie, let me know what you think. I highly recommend it! Not quite as good as other Studio Ghibli movies, but as a friend explained, that’s still better than 99% of all other movies lol.

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