Arrietty is a Borrower and about to turn fourteen. Her father’s been training her in proper techniques, and it’s finally time for her to venture out on her first borrowing. Everything is going to plan until a new Being (i.e. human boy named Shawn) arrives at the house where her family lives and spots Arrietty avoiding a cat. Beings aren’t supposed to see the Borrowers because Beings are vicious and will kill the itty-bitty Borrowers if given the chance.
Arrietty believes Shawn won’t hurt her in spite of what her parents think so she keeps her visits to him a secret. Unfortunately, an adult in the house begins to suspect little people are afoot and hatches a plan to capture them.
The Secret World of Arrietty was directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi. The only other film he has directed is When Marnie Was There (which I watched but couldn’t review because I found it too dull to write about). Arrietty suffers from a lot of the same problems as When Marnie Was There—mainly that there was too little story to justify the run-time. The run-time was ninety-four minutes so you can imagine how little story there was to be had. There were long stretches where the plot stopped dead for five to ten to fifteen minutes at a time. That’s just bad pacing, and I kept nearly falling asleep while the story crawled. If the movie was an hour long, I think The Secret World of Arrietty would have been a very good film because the story itself was good. It just was bogged down by too much filler.
It also didn’t help matters that the villain of the piece, Hara, didn’t have logical motivations for wanting to capture the Borrowers. For most of the movie, we have no idea why she’s after the Borrowers. She mentions an exterminator early on—which is weird because you think she wants to kill the little people for awhile. You learn toward the end of the movie that she just wants to capture them. . .to prove she’s not insane for believing little people are framing her for stealing things. This didn’t really ring true for two reasons:
1. Shawn’s aunt believed in the little people—at least in theory.
2. The Borrowers tried not to steal anything that would be noticed—so, what, was Hara getting blamed for half a teaspoon of sugar being gone?
I thought Hara could have been a better villain if maybe she was tired of being a housekeeper and wanted to sell the Borrowers for money. Or if no one believed in the Borrowers and they really did think she was crazy. There were a lot of inconsistencies on human end of the story and most of them centered around Hara (and Shawn’s aunt to a certain extent too).
There was a decent amount of stuff that didn’t work in this film, but what worked really well was the main character, Arrietty. She was an amazing heroine. I loved that she was brave and didn’t let her parent’s prejudices against the “Beings” stop her from becoming friends with one. It was also important that she was allowed to make some serious mistakes that had lasting consequences for her family. She got seen by a person (and lied about it) and that led to her mother being abducted and her family having to move. There were effects to her actions, and I liked that they didn’t get wiped clean at the end. It’s nice to have a young heroine that is strong and smart and yet still makes mistakes. A lot of Studio Ghibli heroines are like that, but Arrietty’s case was more extreme than others and I liked that.
The animation in The Secret World of Arrietty was also exceptionally good. I loved how all encompassing the world of the Borrowers seemed. Their little home was so detailed as were the passageways through the house and the little doll house they visited. I always find the detail in these films impressive, but I’d say that Arrietty had some of the best looking art I’ve seen in a Studio Ghibli film that doesn’t involve floating castles or spirits.
Even more important: There was a cat in this film. I’m still of the opinion that every one of these movies should have a cat so I was very excited about Nina, the black and white-ish cat, making an appearance.
On the whole, I liked The Secret World of Arrietty for one-time viewing. This isn’t a Studio Ghibli film that I’d care about seeing again, but it was pretty and had a great heroine so I can’t complain too much.
Onto the current rankings!
My Current Studio Ghibli Movie Rankings
- Howl’s Moving Castle (Review)
- Whisper of the Heart (Review)
- The Cat Returns (Review)
- Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (Review)
- Spirited Away (Review)
- Porco Rosso
- Kiki’s Delivery Service (Review)
- Castle in the Sky (Review)
- The Secret World of Arrietty
- My Neighbor Totoro
- When Marnie Was There
If you were six inches tall, what would your preferred weapon be? (Arrietty’s was a sewing pin.)
Image Source: Disney Screencaps