You are never more than eighteen feet away from a little person. At night they wander around your bedroom taking away your prized collection of Pogs and plectrums, and you never notice. So, they coin their thievery as borrowing that which is not missed. It would be a bigger problem if they started ‘borrowing’ chocolate bars and South Park DVDs. Arrietty is a Japanese take on the Borrowers and it shows that some humans do not take kindly to missing sugar cubes.
The tale follows Arrietty as she goes off on her first borrowing mission with her father. She lives in a pleasant house surrounded by a luxurious looking garden, and as long as they stay away from humans everything will be okay. With the threat in place, it isn’t long before they are spotted and this causes the small family to worry about their livelihood. They don’t know the one to spot them is a nice, if slightly possessive, boy with a heart disease. He just wants some friends to look after and protect, but to Arrietty and her family, he is just another human like the evil Haru who cleans the house. It is a tale of acceptance and survival, and the beautiful animation, attention to detail and characters make it a place you want to step into and lie in the grass.
While Arrietty keeps Ghibli’s simple but life-like cast, the backgrounds are on a beauty overload. Every single second of the film is crammed with gorgeous details and colour. The little house the Borrowers live in is a dream home with its characteristic looks and clever use of human objects made into Borrower sized appliances. The corridor which connect the rooms with the twirly lime wallpaper is something you’d stumble upon in the hidden areas of a city cafe and the lavish detail spreads to the outside too. It might not be the best animated of the Ghibli collection (Ponyo gets that one) it is the most rich to view. Even during the slower moments of the film, the setting kept me drawn in.
Arrietty only has one weakness, but it isn’t a small one. What it lacks is a strong compelling villain. Haru the housemaid might have a thing against the little people, but we never see her motives or accomplish anything truly devious. She does break the calm though the relationship between Arrietty and the sick child Sho is far more engaging. It seems she was forced in to create extra drama, but wasn’t fully realised with her actions. More sinister reasoning or a more climatic final scene would have set Arrietty up as a classic, but instead it makes the final act fall a little flat. The earlier adventures of Arrietty and her father are far more intense as they carefully sneak about to the sound of a beating heart.
Arrietty is a strong rendition of the popular Borrowers story. While it fails to deliver a truly enticing final act, the rest is a beautiful tale of a small person becoming friends with a large person. And a cat.