Movie #24 2021: The Secret World of Arrietty (2010)

Two Studio Ghibli movies in one month? What a treat!

Perhaps slightly less lauded than Princess Mononoke is The Secret World of Arrietty, which is also known as simply Arrietty in general but is titled Arrietty the Borrower in Japan. Sound familiar? Yes, this time, the folks at Ghibli have based their movie on the 1952 novel The Borrowers by Mary Norton, which has also had some live action remakes in movies in North America. And it’s exactly what you think: Arrietty is a ‘borrower’, a.k.a. A tiny person – with a tiny family – who borrows small things from full sized humans that they won’t miss. For example, one major motif in this film involves Arrietty attempting to pinch a cube of sugar from the humans who live in the house they occupy. One day, Arrietty is shocked to the core when a human boy discovers that she exists. The rest of the film looks at how she deals with being spotted.

I meaaaaan… the lighting and the cinematography in this Ghibli outing is incredible?! They’re always brilliant of course, but this one just seemed to stand out more to me in terms of those aspects. The way the ‘light’ (it’s animated light, so not actual light) streams through the grass and the trees is simply beautiful, and probably the highlight of the entire thing for me.

I don’t know about you, but the British dub of Arrietty (the one I had the pleasure of seeing) stars Olivia ColmanSaoirse Roman, Mark Strong and Tom Holland so… at least there’s one good thing about this country I guess. The US version indeed has Amy Poehler in Colman’s role however, so I guess not all is lost for our friends across the pond either.

Arrietty is a much quieter, calmer film than other Ghibli ones I’ve seen, but that doesn’t mean it’s not as interesting. It does feel slightly less whimsical than perhaps My Neighbour Totoro (which is saying something because this is literally about miniature people), but it’s just so nice to look at – some of the hand drawn backgrounds, flowers and objects are simply exquisite. The images I’ve used above don’t even begin to do it justice. (The second image, by the way, is a piece of fan art, but sadly I am unable to trace the creator as there’s no artist’s credit attached to it.)

Don’t get it twisted: this isn’t just a movie about little people. There are strong themes of trust, overcoming our differences, and – most pleasingly – the effects humans have on the planet, all hidden within this entertaining animation. And that’s what Ghibli does best. They’re not as obvious or ‘in your face’ as the lessons you can often learn in Pixar films, but they interweave real life topics into their films so subtly yet so powerfully, teaching kids right from wrong so successfully.

I can only assume the reason that this doesn’t sit so highly on people’s Ghibli lists is that it’s not quite as flashy or as action-packed as others. However, I still enjoyed it; it’s a really sweet story that is expertly crafted as usual.

Not the studio’s best, but still really great.

The Secret World of Arrietty is available to stream on Netflix in the UK.

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