Review of The Secret World of Arrietty

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The Clock family consists of four-inch-tall people who live anonymously in another family's residence, borrowing simple items to make their home. When their daughter, Arrietty, is discovered life changes for the Clocks.
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Movie Review: "The Secret World of Arrietty" --

Rating: G (for all audiences)
Length: 94 minutes
Release Date: February 17, 2012
Directed by: Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Genre: Animation, Adventure, Family
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

"The Secret World of Arrietty" is a tale about 14-year-old Arrietty (Bridgit Mendler, "Good Luck Charlie," "Labor Pains") and the rest of the Clock family, who live in a secret world of anonymity. They make their homes and survive using items they borrow from the homes of humans, and they manage to live in relative peace and stability until they're discovered by a human boy. Moviegoers may recognize this tale as that of the children's novel and feature film, "The Borrowers," but "The Secret World of Arrietty" is a much different movie experience than many viewers on this continent are used to seeing on the big screen.

The secret race of tiny people that make up Arrietty's family are called "Borrowers," and they're described in the novel as being about two hairpins tall. The film shows these tiny beings collecting what they need to survive under the cover of night, fearful that they'll be discovered and forced to move yet again. Arrietty's family lives in an old country home, where they are happy and safe, until Shawn (David Henrie, "Wizards of Waverly Place") moves in. Shawn is very ill and discovers the tiny girl, who is out on her first borrowing mission. The two end up forming an unlikely friendship. But then Arrietty's life is threatened by Hara (Carol Burnett, "Post Grad," "Horton Hears a Who!"), the caretaker of the house. She's convinced the Borrowers are a group of thieving pests that must be eradicated. Burnett's distinctive voice is immediately recognizable, and this enhances her character all the more.

The film's animation is a beautiful and carefully detailed piece of art that is held together by the powerful emotions of each character and the high stakes they face.

In the opening sequence, viewers learn about Arrietty's parents immediately. The father is soft-spoken with a strong sense of duty, while the mother is an endless worrier. Arrietty doesn't immediately trust Shawn, because she's been taught to fear humans to ensure her safety, but she soon learns that apart from their size, she and the human boy aren't all that different. Shawn is facing his own mortality at a young age, while she is struggling with the possibility that her family may be the last of their kind.

Hara, the film's villain, provides the main conflict in the film. She calls an exterminator to trap the Borrowers and manages to catch Arrietty's mom. Arrietty and Shawn rescue her and the two protagonists find Spiller (Moises Arias, "Astro Boy," "We the Party"), a forest-dwelling borrower. He tells Arrietty that she can join the rest of their kind upriver as the film reaches its end.

The English language dub by Disney is flawless, and the cast of voices include many of the Disney Channel's top stars. Will Arnett ("Jonah Hex") and Amy Poehler ("Saturday Night Live") lend voices to Arrietty's mom and dad and successfully convey the very distinct inner characters behind the animation. Poehler could have taken the easy route and gone over the top with the worrywart mother, but she does not. She gives the character real emotion through her voice and still delivers a few lines with her signature comedic timing.

"The Secret World of Arrietty" contains none of the trappings of today's 3D blockbusters, but it gives viewers young and old a visual feast with its hand-drawn animation that fills the screen in rich color and sound.

Many filmmakers might have ruined the simplicity of this tale by focusing on how the Borrowers go about their work and their lives, but newcomer Hiromasa Yonebayashi instead shows viewers their world by focusing on tiny visual details that are often ignored. Arrietty's hand-crafted backpack, a teapot that pours its contents in blobs and the intricate beauty of sugar crystals are given the spotlight, and it's these minute details that make this film a pleasure to view. But Yonebayashi's attention to sound is what makes the film truly unique. Every movement and every item used in each scene sound as they would if you were only two hairpins high.

Above all else, the most successful element of this film is how the filmmakers never lose sight of the emotion behind the story. The serious themes of mortality and extinction are always lurking beneath the surface, and occasionally the mood is lightened by the happier themes of friendship and love. These are what make "The Secret World of Arietty" a movie that everyone of all ages must see.