It’s been exactly 15 years to the day since The Borrowers last graced American screens in the form of Peter Hewitt’s delightful action comedy, also adapted from Mary Norton’s novels. Where The Borrowers focused on the adventure, The Secret World of Arrietty is more in line with Hayao Miyazaki’s weird and wonderful Ponyo, also dealing with an impossible crush. With a crush one often does what they can to protect both oneself and the person or object one has a crush on, even in secrecy.

The Secret World of Arrietty planned, written and produced by Miyazaki and directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi follows Arrietty Clock – voiced in the United States version by Bridgit Mendler, an only child in this incarnation. The Clock Family including her parents (voiced by Amy Poehler and Will Arnett) are four-inch tall residents living in within the walls of a country home shared by a “being” – a ill young boy, Shawn (David Henrie) whose is scheduled for a dangerous heart surgery, and his grandmother (voiced by Carol Burnett). Their dwelling has the amenities of the human world, despite being imaginatively cobbled together from “borrowed” items.

This film exists in a category apart from other adaptations of The Borrowers, as the focus is as simple as it is profound. While “survival” is a theme of the more action-oriented 1997 British adaptation, morality and friendship exist within a distinctively Japanese pictorial cinematic tradition. The animation exists with the bright purity of Miyazaki – broken by the film’s dubbed translation. Where I’ve sought out dubbed version of Miyzaki’s films with the intention of focusing on the visuals, a subtitled version of The Secret World of Arrietty, a film somewhat slower in pace than his others, would have been less of a distraction. Karey Kirkpatrick’s English-language dialogue has a tendency to over explain, ironically distracting from the minimalism of animation and simplicity in its “camera” in motion. Perhaps very gifted comic actors in parental roles is a problem,  as the UK adaptation replaces Pohler and Arnett with Oliva Coleman (so brave and powerful in Tyrannosaur) and Mark Strong. I’d be curious to see/hear other English language adaptations and perhaps this will be a DVD extra.

The world of the borrowers has been under threat in all adaptations, here it is subtler, as Young Shawn’s grandmother, always skeptical about the presence of these “little people” – then has her point disproven. Shawn’s mother and her father were constructing a detailed, fully functional doll house for the borrowers with the hope of living with them. Perhaps this world is not such a secret after all.

The film is beautifully directed, magical and full of sadness, like a summer where you connect with the love of your life and never see her again. It is a film that not easily forgettable, even if some of the English-language dialogue, which serves to fill visual space, is.

The Secret World of Arrietty is now in wide release.

Grade: B+

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