Like most fantasies, “The Secret World of Arrietty” thrives on the promise of adventure and forays into danger. Whether the hero is the young stable boy, the trapped princess, the eager prince or the noble peasant (e.g. Luke Skywalker, Frodo Baggins, Harry Potter, Dorothy Gale), they’re all given the same choice: to either run from danger or to confront it.
The Secret World of Arrietty
At Quality 16 and Rave
Walt Disney Studios
The titular Arrietty Clock (Bridgit Mendler, “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel”) is a Borrower — a dying race of miniature people who “borrow” small things from humans in order to survive. They lead a dangerous life, hiding from crows, cats and most of all, humans. One night, when Arrietty and her father Pod (Will Arnett, “Despicable Me”) venture out from their little home underneath the floor, they are discovered by the house’s newest human resident, Shawn (David Henrie, “Wizards of Waverly Place: The Movie”).
Shawn is a sickly boy who has come to his mother’s (and the Clocks’) childhood home, away from the city, seeking some tranquility before his heart surgery. His mother would have spent some time with him, but she and her divorced husband are too busy with their work. Before his life comes to an end, as he’s so convinced it will, he wants a friend. And Shawn finds one in Arrietty, despite her stoic father and worrisome mother, Homily (Amy Poehler, TV’s “Parks and Recreation”).
Their friendship is built on curiosity. On one hand, Arrietty is forced to overcome her fear of humans. On the other, Shawn is given an opportunity to do something extraordinary, an opportunity he may never have again. They learn to trust each other. Like any good children’s movie, whether it’s released from Pixar or, in this case, Studio Ghibli, “Arrietty” rewards curiosity and affirms courage.
But “Arrietty” is not without its clever tricks. Despite being hand-drawn, the world of the Borrowers has enough detail and visual splendor to win over audiences more accustomed to the CGI craze of the past decade. Size is conveyed on a grand scale. The glow of a cat’s eyes, the thunderous pounding of a crow’s wings, the lush forests of a backyard, the impossible heights of a coffee table — it’s a wonderful experience to see our world from the perspective of someone so small.
However, there are times that such wonder falls short of delivering something actually thrilling. It’s a slower movie for people who might anticipate a more Americanized cartoon. While its thematic content is mature, it makes no attempt to appease older viewers with subtle innuendos as “Shrek” or any number of other animated films have done. It’s a “pretty” movie, but at times, it feels more like a lullaby, the type of old movie or informercial you throw on to put you to sleep.
Still, the actors all do a solid job at voicing their characters. It’s a thoughtful film that celebrates friendship, and there’s enough clean humor to charm its viewers.
Studio Ghibli tries to capture the magic of a world just below our own. It tries to make us aware of what we trample on every day. For the most part, “Arietty” succeeds. And maybe when the children go home after watching the movie, they’ll step softly, hoping to not disturb the little people in their walls.