When it comes to animated films, Disney sets the standard -- at least in the Western world. As far as Japanese animation is concerned, Studio Ghibli is legendary. They're the company behind Princess Mononoke, Ponyo, and Spirited Away, which have been global commercial and critical successes (Spirited Away is the only film made outside the English-speaking world to have won an Oscar for Best Animated Feature). So when you hear that Disney has teamed up with Studio Ghibli to release a movie -- The Secret World of Arrietty -- based on a Carnegie medal-winning children's book (The Borrowers), you kind of get the sense that it's going to be good.
So what are Borrowers? They're tiny people who live under the floorboards and "borrow" things like salt and sugar and tissues in order to make a home for themselves and survive. Arrietty is one of them. Here's a short clip from the movie showing Arrietty explaining what Borrowers are:
As you can imagine, Borrowers don't want humans (or Beans, as they call them) knowing they exist. But Arrietty, being a headstrong teenager, manages to make friends with a human boy, Sean -- and inadvertently jeopardizes her family's existence.
The kids really enjoyed this movie! Kids everywhere have been fascinated by the notion of tiny people living in a big world -- think of Thumbelina, Gulliver and the Lilliputs, Tinkerbell and her fairy friends (kids, after all, are little people living in a big grown-up world). They loved the thought of the Borrowers outwitting humans and to survive, using their inventiveness to transform ordinary human objects into useful tools (in the Borrowers' world, pins become swords, spools of thread are used as rope, and old postage stamps become works of art to put up on the walls). It's well suited to small kids because there is no real villain, just a frustrated housekeeper, and it's easy to talk to your kids afterwards about how people can be nasty out of ignorance or thoughtlessness rather than true malice.
As a parent, I have to admit that I found the storyline a bit frustrating, especially when Arrietty's curiosity gets her whole family into trouble (Hey, Arietty, why don't you just DO AS YOU'RE TOLD??). But that's what growing up is, I guess: being allowed to make some mistakes, and learn from them, and that's another reason why the storyline resonated so much with the kids. As long as you leave your fuddy-duddy grownup hat off and go with the flow, you'll enjoy the movie too -- and you won't need to switch any hats to enjoy the beautiful animation. In this world of CGI, it's nice to see the art of animation still flourishing! The scenes of the Borrowers' world are so beautiful, with so much attention to detail, I found myself wanting to rewind again and again, so I could take in the clever details like wallpaper (made from wrapping paper and old letters), Pod's tools (made from paper clips, nails, screws), the fireplace, and more.
The Secret World of Arrietty is showing in theatres now; don't miss it!
Disclosure: I received an invitation to an advanced press screening of the movie. Movie synopsis was provided by Walt Disney Studios publicity and is indicated in italics. The views and opinions expressed here are my own.