Living underneath the floorboards of a house out in the countryside are a family of Borrowers: small people who live their lives ‘borrowing’ various items from the humans that they will not miss, such as a sugar cube or leaves from the back garden. Arrietty is a Borrower, 14 years old and living with her parents, when she accidently gets seen by a young boy named Sho who has come to stay at the house whilst he waits for his heart operation. Fear of being discovered, the Borrowers must keep themselves hidden but when the maid of Sho’s grandmother becomes suspicious, Sho and Arrietty’s friendship must somehow keep their existence a secret.
Based upon the British novel ‘The Borrowers’ by Mary Norton, Arrietty is a sweet and simple little film that contains all the charm and visual flair of a Ghibli film but less of the political or deep storytelling elements Hayao Miyazaki’s early work is known for. The film is effortless to watch and never really strives to be any more than a ‘coming of age’ story of sorts where Arrietty is desperate to go on her first ‘borrowing’ mission but accidently gets seen by a human. Her actions come with consequences that affect the plot of the film, leading to dramatic changes to her and her family’s lives forever. Sho is a sick little boy that, at the start of the film, considers himself at death’s door with no hope of survival. However his encounter with something extraordinary gives him a new lease of life. His friendship with the reluctant Borrower may be the cause of Arrietty’s problems, but his kindness and wanting to get to know something so unlike him leads to the heart-warming conclusion, even if the film ends on a cloud of uncertainty as to where our heroes will go next, good or bad. Despite what little you learn about the characters, they are all likeable and relatable in various ways; Sho’s horrible situation will definitely draw sympathy whether you’ve been through his condition or not, Arrietty’s thirst for adventure while not hesitating to fix things she’s done wrong make her a very strong female lead as well. Also the odd families play their parts; Sho’s grandmother’s maid plays the unusual antagonist role of sorts, while Arrietty’s father Pod has great presence of leadership and gentleness even though he only has a handful of lines. But the strongest point of the film is the imagination invested into creating the Borrowers’ world. From climbing the vines to get onto the roof, the stroking of small insects as if they’re cats or dogs, to the pasting of double sided tape onto their feet to climb the walls, all these touches are very clever and fascinating to watch. Studio Ghibli did a fantastic job of bringing the world of a tiny person to life in such beautiful detail.
The audio side of the film is a rather interesting listen. To those who don’t know, this film was actually dubbed twice; first by Studio Canal with a British cast released back in July 2011, then again with the regular Disney casting that previous Ghibli films have had in America for a February 2012 release. The UK DVD comes with the British dub only; Arrietty is played by Saoirse Ronan (Atonement, The Lovely Bones) and she does a fantastic portrayal of the highly courageous but also compassionate Borrower. Sho is portrayed by Tom Holland from Billy Elliot the Musical and although I’m sure he’s fantastic on stage, I cannot say the same for his bland voice acting, sadly. Mark Strong provides the gruff voice of Arrietty’s father, despite saying little he certainly leaves a good impression on you, and Geraldine McEwan (Miss Marple) voices the eccentric maid with great passion and comical timing. So overall it’s a fun listen even if it’s a bit shaky in places. The music score is provided by the French musician Cécile Corbel which is a mixture of acoustic guitars and flutes; it spins a folksy feel to the score that really works with the material.
DVD extras only include alternative storyboard angles and the Japanese dub.
Arrietty is a sweet anime and Studio Ghibli film for all the family to enjoy; it may not be as deep in storytelling as their previous work or have something to say outside its charming story, but it’s a heart-warming film that plays perfectly to the family gathered on the sofa.