The Secret World of Arrietty (2010)


The Secret World of Arrietty

Released: 2010
Rated: G
Length: 94 min.
Age: 6 and up.              commonsense media sez: 7 +
Interests: little people, romance, family, illness, adventure, strong girls

Scary factor: a few close scrapes for the little people – Arrietty dodges a dive-bombing crow, Homily is plucked from their home and put in a jar by the housekeeper (only to be rescued soon after), and there are a couple of vaguely menacing moments from a lazy cat

Language: a few very mild insults are hurled by the housekeeper: crazy, bonkers, idiot.

Violence: none (how often can I say that?!)

Next – books: read the book this is based on, The Borrowers by Mary Norton, plus the sequels The Borrowers Afield, The Borrowers Aloft, The Borrowers Afloat, The Borrowers Avenged

Next – movies: more Studio Ghibli titles: My Neighbor Totoro, Ponyo, Kiki’s Delivery Service

Arietty and her parents Pod and Homily are only a few inches tall and live under the floorboards of an old house. They are ‘borrowers’, who survive by ‘borrowing’ small objects and bits of food from the humans of the house, all while remaining unseen and undetected. When an ailing human boy named Shawn comes to stay and catches a glimpse of Arietty, a friendship is born. Unfortunately however, the housekeeper’s hatred of the borrowers means they must pack up and leave the house.

A beautiful, thoughtful, gentle-yet-adventurous film, with a touch of romance as well. As with all Studio Ghibli movies, this film is a real gem. The basic plot points from the famous book (The Borrowers) have been altered somewhat in this movie version, although it remains true to the characters and the basic themes of survival and loneliness. The most noteworthy change: Homily is actually kidnapped by the housekeeper, and courageous Arrietty rescues her, with Shawn’s help. The plotline is refreshingly loose and meandering, and free of violence and extreme threat. The script is intelligent and doesn’t pander to its young audience. The two main characters are teens, undergoing their own struggles and dealing with loneliness.

Arrietty is a brave, daring and responsible young girl trying to prove she is ready to venture upstairs and forage with her father. She is also plagued with the fear that they may be the only ones of their kind. She copes rather cheerfully with the isolation of living with only her parents for company.

Sean has been sent to the country by emotionally distant parents, in order to rest before an important heart operation. The lack of caring from his parents is commented on by the aunt, but Sean doesn’t talk much about it, and that issue remains in the background. He is dealing with issues of illness and the possibility of death. Again, though, this is touched on with sensitivity and not in a heavyhanded or overly emotional way.

Both Arrietty and Shawn gain insight from each other as they talk about their problems and enjoy each other’s company. When they part Shawn tells Arrietty that he has learned bravery from her and that his heart is stronger because of their friendship, so it seems clear that he will regain his health. (In voiceover he also mentions returning to his aunt’s home the next summer.)

Arrietty is grieved to leave her new friend, but faces up to the big move much better than her timorous mother. Arrietty is a bold, adventurous girl, and the last images of her (in the tail credits) show her gazing eagerly ahead as their teapot boat bobs downstream. She is eager to find more of her kin out in the big wide world.

Arrietty’s mother is a telling contrast to her daughter. Homily worries incessantly about dangers on every side, but her fears are comically hysterical. Arrietty’s father Pod is a solid, dependable father and agile, capable adventurer upstairs. In fact the foraging scenes are the most enchanting of the book and movie. The inventiveness and daring of the little people are the most enduring aspect of this story.

Re. the age recommendation – There is really nothing too scary for children as young as four, however this movie will appeal the most to children aged about six, because of the sophisticated themes and the element of ill-fated romance between Shawn and Arrietty. I can personally vouch for this movie’s appeal to 6-7 year old girls, as it kept six sleepover guests enraptured at my house one night!

Oh, and did I mention that the design and animation are stunningly gorgeous? This should go without saying for every Studio Ghibli film.

(DVD available at




Secret World of Arrietty


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All writings posted here are © Kim Thompson, unless otherwise indicated. For all artwork on this site, copyright is retained by the artist.
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