Making the Grades
Japanese animator Hiromasa Yonebayashi takes the directorial seat of The Secret World of Arrietty. Best known for his animation work in films such as Ponyo, Howl’s Moving Castle and Spirited Away, he stays fairly true to Mary Norton’s 1952 children’s novel The Borrowers upon which the movie is based. In the opening scenes, he introduces the spirited tiny teen girl Arrietty (voice by Bridgit Mendler) and her parents Pod and Homily (voices by Will Arnett and Amy Poehler). The director then invites audiences under the floorboards and into the family’s miniature household equipped with items they’ve “borrowed” from the Big People.
Maintaining their secret world is imperative for their safety and survival. But despite severe warnings from her parents, Arrietty can’t help but reveal herself to Shawn (voice by David Henrie), an ailing young boy who has come to live with his Aunt Jessica (voice by Gracie Poletti). While Shawn intends no harm to the little people, Hara the housemaid (voice by Carol Burnett) doesn’t share his benign fascination with them. She would just as soon call in the exterminators as let the Borrowers take things from her kitchen.
Yonebayashi’s attention to detail and the gentle unfolding of the story differ appreciably from the fast-paced, almost frenetic films more commonly aimed at children. Several scenes depict Shawn simply reclining in the colorful riot of wildflowers that have overtaken the English manor’s garden. Even the musical score is melodic and soft, although it picks up during the brief moments of peril that most often involve the family cat.
While there is little content most parents will find objectionable in this film, the issue still arises around “borrowing.” Certainly the script makes a point of informing us that the family only borrows what they need. But by definition, to borrow is to take and use something with the intention of returning it. I’m pretty sure this little family has no intention of returning the sweet stuff they snatch from the kitchen sugar bowl.
Japanese Title: Kari-gurashi no Arietti
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about The Secret World of Arrietty.
Are the tiny characters in this story borrowing or stealing? Is there a difference? What is it? The movie often tells audience members that the Borrowers are only taking what they need. What is the definition of need? Are the things they have taken to beautify their home truly a need? Could the justification the family uses to explain their actions be used by someone who might “need” to take something belonging to you?
How do the different Big People respond to the Little People in this story? Why is Hara the housemaid so eager to expose them? Does the story give any reason for her feelings about Arrietty and her family?
How do common household objects become threatening obstacles for the tiny family? Would you like to live in the miniature world of the Borrowers? If you were one of them, what kind of things would you borrow?