The Secret World of Arrietty tells the story of a world populated by miniature people. They’re called “borrowers” because they borrow everything they need from human beings,or “beans” as they’re called in the film. When a borrower named Arrietty encounters a human boy named Shawn, she and her family must leave or risk being found out.
The script is adapted from a book by Mary Norton and it’s a story that seems destined for animation. The borrowers’ gadgets really come to life on screen. They use earrings as grappling hooks and miniature pencils as… pencils. It’s a lot of fun to watch.
The characters are pleasant, albeit familiar. Arrietty is a wide-eyed innocent, brash and eager to take on the world. The father is wise and strong and the mother is a fickle worrier. Shawn is contemplative and sweet. However, a character named Spiller shows up halfway through for seemingly no important reason.
There’s a magical quality to the whole thing. For a brief time, we get to escape to a world where pushpins are swords and sugar cubes can feed a family. In the end, Arrietty learns that humans aren’t all bad when Shawn befriends her and confesses that he is dying of a heart condition. A little heavy for the kids, it was handled well enough.
The film isn’t terribly original. Arrietty’s quest has been done before in other movies like Finding Nemo (2003), The Little Mermaid (1989) and even Bee Movie (2007). There are also plenty of movies that take us under the floorboards for glimpses of miniature worlds. It’s still a good movie though. The story beats may be a little worn-in, but the director, Hiromasa Yonebayashi, takes us through them effectively to deliver the emotional payoff. I think it works well.