a review by Nalini Haynes
Arrietty is a Borrower, a little person who lives with her parents under the floor of a house, borrowing small items like sugar cubes and little morsels of food that humans would never notice going missing. Arrietty is seen by a boy, Shawn, who talks to his aunt in front of Haru, the housekeeper, about little people. Haru decides to hunt down the little people to get rid of them, regardless of her employer’s wish for the little people to live in her dollhouse. The opening scenes build Arrietty’s world effectively, demonstrating her size, how she lives and what dangers she faces.
The plot is well-paced but gentle. Haru begins investigating, her goals made clear when she calls in pest control. She’s just a woman who wants to be rid of thieving pests, she’s not a terrifying villain. Shawn is ill but gains hope and courage from Arrietty; this is possibly the weakest point of the plot but it’s a positive message to family audiences. This is a movie that is suitable for very young viewers, a family movie.
The movie is animated: the characters are drawn as line and colour figures, reasonably accurate proportions with eyes emphasised for characterisation. Some of the landscapes are painterly representations of luxuriant flowers and scenery.
When I was 9 and 10 years old, I read and reread every one of Mary Norton’s Borrower series that I could find in the school library. Revisiting this story now had special meaning for me, although some things made me pause for reflection. Arrietty is set in Japan, with subtle reminders including wooden floorboards, humans wearing slippers inside and wooden clogs outside and the architecture of the house is somewhere between traditional Japanese and a more Western style of home. A human using a mobile phone was another reminder that Arrietty is made in a different era to the one in which the Borrowers originally lived. While my memories of the Borrowers stories have faded with time, I’m fairly confident in saying that Arrietty is an adaptation: this plot was not true to an original novel. Arrietty is a successful interpretation of the original stories for a new generation; I hope that young readers will discover Mary Norton’s books and delight in them as much as I did, as a result of Arrietty the movie.
I highly recommend Arrietty as a family movie and as an effective adaptation of the Borrowers.