This secret shouldn’t remain one
If there was an Oscar for “Parent’s Choice’ the films of Studio Ghibli led by pioneering director/writer Hayao Miyazaki would certainly dominate the awards. Their films, which include “Ponyo,” “Howl’s Moving Castle,” “Princess Mononoke,” and “Spirited Away” (which did win an Oscar) rely on stunning, old school, Japanese anime and more importantly for parents, a more gentle tone that pervades their enchanting, imaginative stories.
“The Secret World of Arrietty” is of that same mold and while it might not have the unpredictable whimsy of its film heritage, and the pacing is quite subdued, the plot is more grounded and in some respects easier to enjoy.
Based on Mary Norton’s 1952 novel “The Borrowers” the film introduces Arrietty (voiced by Bridgit Mendler) a feisty, palm-sized 10 year old who lives with her similarly tiny parents (real life married couple Will Arnett and Amy Poehler) below an English style cottage amidst a lush country garden. The miniature family is one of the last of generations who live secretly among humans and borrow from them essential items for food and shelter. Arrietty’s father is particularly resourceful–like a pint sized Bear Grylls–at foraging for sugar cubes, thimbles, and stick pins while teaching Arrietty to vigilantly avoid contact with the larger human “beings.”
When a sickly youngster named Shawn (David Henrie) comes to visit and discovers Arrietty, a cautious friendship blossoms but a cranky housekeeper (voiced manically by Carol Burnett) threatens to ruin everything.
Typical of Studio Ghibli product, the animation is lush and the milieu is a wonderfully unusual mix of Asian and Western culture. Little ones may not have the patience for the film’s anti-frenetic pace, and what action and humor exist, do so in understated fashion.
“The Secret World of Arrietty” is like motion picture “Yoga,” quietly cathartic and just the thing to raise your kids on.