The Secret World of Arriety (2012)

Rated G. Our ratings: V -1; L -1; S/N -1 . Running time: 1 hour 34 min.

Their hearts are steady, they will not be afraid;
in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.
Psalm 112:8

Shawn looks on as Arriety and her mother are reunited.

2012 Walt Disney Studios

Standing four inches tall Arriety Clock (voiced by Bridgit Mendler) might be small, but she certainly possesses a large amount of courage, as we see in this delightfully hand-drawn film. Made for both the Japanese and the English speaking markets, it is brought to us by Studio Ghibli the same studio that gave us the wonderful Spirited Away and Ponyo. The film is unlike most other current animated films in that the makers used computers just for the backgrounds, but it stands out also in that the main character is a girl—indeed one who instills courage in a sickly boy, and not the other way around. Based on British author Mary Norton’s series of books The Borrowers, the film is truly an international venture that an y family with a daughter should be seeing. (And I do not mean to exclude the boys, as they will easily relate to the human Shawn.)

Arriety, 14 going on 15, is living with her mom and dad, Pod (Will Arnett) and Homily (Amy Poehler), beneath the floorboards of a large suburban cottage where young Shawn (voice of David Henrie) has been sent to bolster his health before he undergoes heart surgery. The Clocks have not seen any other Little People, and strive hard to make sure that none of the giants living above see them. They live comfortably, if secretively, by borrowing (their term) unwanted or unused items from the humans. Thus they have made their small home as comfortable as the one above.

When Shawn first arrives, he thinks he might have caught a glimpse of a Little Folk peering from the cover of flowers and plants. He has indeed, Arriety having ventured forth, despite her parents’ commands, to see the outside world. Later that night, when Pod allows his daughter to accompany him on a hunt for a sugar cube, the boy does indeed see her as he lies almost asleep in his bed.

As events unfold, and the two make contact, a tenuous friendship develops. However, the human’s busybody housekeeper Hara (Carol Burnett) also learns of the Little People’s existence, promptly calling a pest exterminator, and even capturing Homily and stashing her in a Mason jar which she hides in the pantry. How this works out and the Clocks, led by Pod, move away makes for a bitter sweet ending to the film.

Themes of loneliness, friendship and trust are well handled in this film that has suffered from lack of audience support. Maybe because of its G rating, or because the main character is a girl: whatever the cause, it is is too bad. The film is a beautifully hand drawn film, a welcome relief to all the computer-generated fare that now dominate the genre. The flower gardens, the meadow, and the cozy interiors hark back to the illustrations in books that made them so magical to young eyes. What an adventure to see Arriety and her dad nimbly climbing inside the walls of the house, using a series of nails driven into the walls for a catwalk. The artists give us good perspectives of the towering cabinets and tables as Arriety views them, all of which the tiny people skillfully mount in their search for food and other items needed back home. For families with small children this film should resonate, reminding them that courage is not just a possession of “big people,” but is found in small packages as well.

Note: Discussion questions are available with this review for those subscribing to the Visual Parables journal. The journal also includes many extras–book reviews, the use of films for church seasons, a lectionary related column, and more. Hundreds of old reviews are also available in the subscribers; section. Check out the sample issue.