Studio Ghibli’s adaptation of Mary Norton’s classic The Borrowers is a fairly faithful one, grounding the film in a reality that’s unusual for the studio. However it’s still about tiny people living under a house unbeknownst to the occupants – or so they think – who make nightly trips to “borrow” (read: “steal”) ordinary household items that the humans will never miss but that are crucial to their survival/home comforts. So a bay leaf from the garden is a welcome birthday present as it will last the borrowers an entire year, and a sugar cube serves similarly. Arriety is the adventurous fourteen-year-old daughter, Homily and Pod her mother and father. Arriety has been spotted by Sho, a young (human) boy who has come to stay at the house for some peaceful rest before a heart operation that could well kill him. Warned by her wise father that children are often the most dangerous type of “human bean” Arriety is naturally afraid of Sho, but his continued acts of kindness eventually convince her that he’s a friend.
The animation is – of course – breathtaking. Ghibli have had this racket sewn up for years, and they don’t disappoint here. The direction by Hiromasa Yonebayashi is – in some sequences – awe-inspiring. The first jaw-dropper comes early on with the first trip to the house to borrow a sugar cube and a paper tissue. The route they take from one world to the other is meticulously realised and great pains are taken to make it believable. With the tension increased the stage is set for the kitchen sequence, where the director’s exquisite sense of perspective comes to the fore. Arriety and Pod look like mountain climbers, standing on a counter staring into an abyss the bottom of which is too far down to be visible. It’s possibly the film’s standout moment.
The sound design and attention to detail is also a joy. Whether it’s the loud scraping of metal as Arriety picks up a sewing pin; or an ominously ticking clock that becomes a heartbeat-like thud at the thrilling moment when Arriety sees the supposedly sleeping Sho staring at her silently; or the way that rather than pour from the spout, the tea flops out in little drops because that’s how water behaves in those quantities. The only flaw in this regard is that Arriety is able to open an old window by opening the metal lock on the pane. How you ever tried to do that? It never works!
High adventure all the way then, and touching to boot.
Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Stars:Bridgit Mendler, Amy Poehler, Will Arnett
Runtime: 94 min