The Secret World of Arrietty

Alt title: Karigurashi no Arrietty




I may not have seen many Ghibli films, but I like what I've seen. I'm a huge fan of My Neighbour Totoro and I loved Spirited Away, and the only reason I watched this film was because I saw it at Cex (electronic trading store) for a low enough price and seeing that it was a Ghibli film, I bought it. Can't hurt to add to the collection, right?

Arrietty (known as The Secret World of Arrietty in the Americas) is loosely based on The Borrowers, a novel by Mary Norton. I never read the book and probably never will, but whether or not I'm familiar with the source material is irrelevant. The real question is, how does the film itself fare?

The film takes place in one house. Yes, that's right; one house. A pint-sized girl named Arrietty (no shit) lives with her mother and father beneath the house in order to avoid human detection. The family constantly aquires food and goods from the humans living in the house: they are known as Borrowers. During a scavenging trip with her father, Arrietty is noticed by a sickly boy named Sho (or Shawn in the US dub, the Japanese name is still the same in the UK dub) and, despite escaping, is placed into a state of fear when the housemaid begins to actively hunt for the Borrowers while Sho attempts to help the girl as much as possible.

One of the things I liked about this film was the scale: even though it's set in a single house, viewing the building from the perspective of a tiny person made everything seem huge. Nails became platforms, an insignificant drop of water became a huge blob of liquid, a grassy plain became a forest. The fact that the protagonist was as big as a pinky finger really helped to maximise the size of everything, it makes something as mundane as a pile of rocks seem like an adventure.

Also, the film contains some very threatening scenes on occasion, especially any scene involving the housemaid and Arrietty's mother. The dramatic expressions of the maid combined with the frightened expressions of the mother make their moments on screen very tense and almost scary. You know what? I really like that! I mean, Totoro is still terrific, but even I'll admit that it seems a bit too upbeat and unintimidating. This may not be a horrifying film, but it manages to legitimately freak me out at points unlike any of the other Ghibli films that I've seen to date.

The production values are Ghibli all around, it manages to keep the distinctive studios art style as fresh as ever and it all looks beautiful. Smooth motions, gorgeous backgrounds, fantastic effects (like I said, every rock is an adventure in this film) and delightful imagery flood every goddamned frame of this film, just like Ghibli should do. By far though, the music is the best thing about the picture. It manages to keep each scene atmospheric, heartwarming, heartbreaking and creepy when it needs to. The voice acting could be a little more lively at points but it still earns good marks for the most part. And the sound effects are basic but work well enough. This is certainly one of the best looking and sounding anime movies I've seen to date.

The friendship between Arrietty and Sho is done perfectly. At the start, it's more or less Sho looking at Arrietty with mezmerised awe while she looks at him with frightened awe. As the film progresses (and this is done especially well in the final third) they form a genuine bond that rivals that of Chihiro and Haku from Spirited Away. The best thing about their friendship is that it isn't a romantic relationship because it doesn't need to be. I know a romance between a boy and a girl who is about as tall as his foot would be very difficult to work around, and seeing that the two protagonists ARE a girl and a boy it would have been very easy to place them as a couple. But they manage to restrain themselves and keep them as close friends, right down to the final teardrop in their last moments together.

This is one of the Ghibli films that doesn't get an awful lot of attention for whatever reason, and I honestly couldn't tell you why. It's a magnificent film with outstanding production values and a fully believable friendship that will remain a Ghibli classic for years to come. It doesn't treat its viewers like children, it treats them as mature kids with a thirst for adventure as opposed to slapstick comedy. And if it can do that while maintaining high scores on Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic, then it has to be doing an awful lot right.

8/10 story
9/10 animation
10/10 sound
8/10 characters
8.5/10 overall

The Borrower Arrietty is yet another mediocre Ghibli film, which was adored by thousands of people only because they were completely disappointed with their previous works, Tales From Earthsea and Ponyo in the Cliff. It is indeed not a complete travesty like those two, only because the supposed-retired super awesome director Hayao Miyazaki ran back to supervise most of whatever they were doing. Thank goodness he realized that making quality family movies is not something everybody can do. It takes talent and attention; something of which his successors (his own son included) have no idea of.

I happened to have seen the cartoon series from the 80’s when I was a kid, as well as the live action movie they made some years back, both of which were based on the same book. Well sorry to say this but those earlier versions were better because the older, the better… Err, I meant those had more plot. And seriously, of all the myriads of things they could have shown from the civilization of the little people, they only focused on a single family living in the middle of nowhere, while it has two big people (our kind that is) coming for a visit in the house they are living in for years. And that is pretty much all you get from the plot, as most of it is about the human boy Shou becoming a friend with Borrower girl Arrietty. By the time their background is established, the movie is almost over.

It’s not like there is nothing going on in the story but it sure as hell is not exciting. There is a battle scene of sorts with a crow, and some annoying cat running around, and some granny capturing some little people for awhile. All that mean nothing in the longrun since the most core themes of the movie are left hanging to dry. What about Shou’s illness? What about the Borrowers moving away to safety? What about that granny capturing them for unknown reasons? What about an entire new civilization in the brink of extinction being suddenly revealed to the world? What about their hostile relationships? None of those cool things happen and the most exciting part was seeing a frail sick boy trying to unstuck a crow from a window for over ten minutes.

In case you are wondering why would I expect all that from a family movie, just head back in the older Ghibli films to find out why. Hayao used to make world-shaking events, full of action and suspense, people dying by the millions, civilizations crumbling, and vengeful spirits or beasts huge as skyscrapers turning everything to rubble. And now you get a frail boy trying to save a tiny person from a dollhouse, guarded by a senile granny. That’s it… Maybe if the house was demolished, that crow had eaten some Borrower, the rats had bitten Shuu, Arrietty was falling in love with him, that other savage Borrower was feeling threatened and planned some sort of backstabbing, maybe if we would see the other Borrowers living away being invaded by ants or something, then the movie would be great. Those are lots of maybies and eventually all you get is less than a typical kid film. What I am trying to say here is that they could have done a thousand things with the premise and offered practically nothing.

If you are in for the production values, you are going to like it of course; Ghibli don’t hold back in making everything look splendid. The Borrower microcosmos looks awesome and you are made to think that crossing a simple rabbit hole is an adventure on its own. Voice acting is good, BGM is good, stuff move around nicely instead of watching frozen caricatures with a flapping mouth. They still look rather generic in a Ghibli sense but whatever, they are fine. Superficially you get a wonderful looking setting and well established characters. The problem is they are not doing much with all that and remain on a completely simple level; simplistic character interactions and scratching of the threat humans are to Borrowers. Shou is the perfect good-hearted boy and Arrietty is the perfect risky girl that is ready to go against the rules in order to get what she wants. It was way too easy for them to get friends and cooperate against the dreaded dangers of… fetching sugar… or getting out of a doll house… or getting on a tiny boat and strolling down a calm river… GAH this is so boring! Where is the conflict, the development, the insecurity, the violent struggle with the status quo? They are so basic, they might as well don’t exist at all.

Down to it the movie is not that good. It will appeal to all ghiblitards just for the sake of being Ghibli and it will only be remembered as the film which doesn’t suck like the earlier ones. For those who want something far more cool and similar, I recommend the amazing Le Planet Sauvage.

Scores in a hurry

Analysis: General Artwork 2/2, Character Figures 1/2, Backgrounds 2/2, Animation 2/2, Visual Effects 2/2

Analysis: Voice Acting 3/3, Music Themes 4/4, Sound Effects 3/3

Analysis: Premise 2/2, Pacing 1/2, Complexity 1/2, Plausibility 1/2, Conclusion 1/2

Analysis: Presence 1/2, Personality 1/2, Backdrop 1/2, Development 0/2, Catharsis 1/2

Analysis: Historical Value 1/3, Rewatchability 1/3, Memorability 2/4



6/10 story
9/10 animation
10/10 sound
4/10 characters
6/10 overall


This serves as a meer snapshot into the lives of the Borrowers and Sho at this pparticular instance. Some people will not enjoy the openness of the ending and there are some parts which drag a little but I think it serves a a very believable insight into how these people, both big and small, go about their lives.


As is to be expected this is amazing. There is fantastic amount of detail in the Borrowers world. So much care has been put in to showing how peole this size would cope and interact with the world making it a pleasure to watch. 


There is a little depart from what is normal here, with more of a European feel to the soundtrack. This matches the feel of the setting and is perhaps a nod at the English author. The voicing was good and well matched into the characters.


The characters are good, but not quite up to the same standard. There is a strong heroine, as usual, but for a change we do have some characters playing gender-stereotyped roles. Also I felt that both Sho and Homily could have benefited form more development.


Having watched quite a few of the Borrowers adaptations I can say that this one is my personal favorite. A little more depth to the characters and some closure and this would have definitely had a higher score

8/10 story
9/10 animation
9/10 sound
8/10 characters
8.5/10 overall
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I finally got around to watching Studio Ghibli's Secret World of Arrietty. What a master piece.. The art and animation were superb, like any film by the world's finest: Hayao Miyazaki. The soundtrack is incredible. Never does Studio Ghibli fail to impress me with their music and sound. The story-line they thought up was brilliant; a heart touching adventure into the world of the borrowers. Survival of the fittest is all that is relevant to the poor creatures, and some people ruin it for others. There are always the people that disapprove when they are being supported, and the other way around as well. The characters were alright. The only thing that did not impress me on par with the other elements was just that. Yes, I enjoyed the characters and their personalities, however, it didn't fit it to 'a tea' as I would expect it to. Overall with the characters, I didn't have any problems with them, but they weren't quite what I would have expected. Still yet, I really loved and empathized with the characters. They were cute, bold, and deep all in their own ways. In general, the movie was fantastic! It deserves a high 9/10, and is relatively higher than most of the other films.

10/10 story
10/10 animation
10/10 sound
7/10 characters
9/10 overall
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Hayao Miyazaki and his crew over at Studio Ghibli entertain us with the largest United States movie release of an anime in history. The expectations are high among anime fans and regular moviegoers alike considering the impressive resume of Miyazaki. Additionally, Miyazaki is adapting a beloved novel that seems to fit his creative style well. Studio Ghibli delivers once again with stellar animation, likeable characters, and an emotional, heartwarming story. However, Disney, who distributed the movie in the United States, dropped the ball, but I shall address that matter later in the review.

The Secret World of Arrietty is exactly what it says on the tin. Arrietty is a “borrower,” a character from Mary Norton’s novel who is exactly like a human being except that she is only a few inches tall. She has a mother and a father who “borrow” things from human beings in order to survive. One day she’s spotted by a boy named Shawn (or Sho in the original) while out exploring, and the shroud around her “secret world” begins to fade as the curiosity of both her and the boy overpower their better judgment that each should leave the other alone.

The story is very simple, and explaining it any more would likely give it away, but most people who watch this movie (except perhaps very young children) will know what to expect from this fairy tale setting. In fact, it is the setting that drives the story; Arrietty and her family’s unique lifestyle is the origin of the narrative conflict. What makes this such a gripping story is the way that Miyazaki draws the viewer into it using his animation and atmosphere. Even though everything in the story is relatively predictable, the tense moments remained tense, the emotional moments were emotional, and of course the comedy prompted solid laughs in the sparsely populated theater. It is a story I believe that can be enjoyed by any demographic, truly a “family film” at heart.


How much could I possibly add to the litany of praises that have been said about Miyazaki’s animation? Timeless, breathtaking, fluid, creative, pick your own words out of the thesaurus. If you’re familiar with Miyazaki’s work, then you know what you’re getting. What makes this work different from his others is the shifting perspectives, which he handles very well. The detail he puts into the small world of Arrietty is what gives the story its life. The hugeness of the “human world” is powerful, especially in a movie theater. There isn’t much more I can say that hasn’t already been said countless times about Miyazaki’s other works.

But wait! Miyazaki DIDN'T direct this movie. His role was in planning and writing. Therefore, while the art style can be credited to him, all the other elements should be credited to the director, Hiromasa Yonebayashi, who also has an impressive resume as an animator on other Ghibli works, as well as TV series such as Serial Experiments Lain and Monster. I apologize for initially seeming to credit everything to Miyazaki when Yonebayashi performed exceptionally for his first role as a leading director.


This section is rather long, so I’ll give you a short version here. Disney failed at dubbing. Everything else was good.

Long version: Remember when I said that Disney dropped the ball? This is where they failed in their distribution of Miyazaki’s vision. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not by any means a Disney hater. I loved their work on Spirited Away, in fact, I think the dub of that masterpiece actually exceeded the quality of the original. As my last request before you crucify me, I wish to explain why Disney failed to uphold my expectations of them as a good dubbing company in this movie. Bridget Mendler as Arrietty was a miscast in my opinion. She did an adequate job, but I have two main qualms with her performance. First, she was too old. Arrietty is said to be 13 years old in the movie, and she definitely sounded more like an 18 year old trying to act like a 13 year old. Why they didn’t find another child actress like Daveigh Chase was when she played Chihro is beyond me. Why did they feel the need to find a “name” actress to fill the role when really what is needed is a good performance? I could go on, but I wouldn’t even have a problem with her being cast in this role if it weren’t for my second issue. The second issue is that I didn’t believe she was giving a complete effort throughout the movie. At times she acted very well, and in critical scenes she played the role convincingly, despite the age disparity. However, there were times when she would deliver a line relatively flatly with less emotion than what the animation seemed to call for. I’m not sure if I should blame her or the Disney director, but something went wrong here.

While Ms. Mendler managed to at least capture the personality of her character, David Henrie completely failed. He played his role with almost no emotion, no authenticity, and no skill. Sorry that I can’t spend as long of a paragraph on his failures, but it’s really no more complicated than he sounded like an amateur who didn’t know his way around a microphone. Everyone else played their role fairly well. Carrol Burnet as Hara was hilariously over the top, which was called for considering the animation.

I was surprised to not see Joe Hiraishi’s name for the music, because that was largely well done by a new name, Cecile Corbel. However, there were magical moments without music in the anime, which I enjoy to no end when done correctly, especially the first scene in which Arrietty and her father go “borrowing,” where the only sounds are the soft taps of their feet and their interactions with their environment. When I saw “Skywalker Sound” in the credits, I assumed they were the ones responsible for the excellent Foley art that drew the audience into these otherwise silent scenes.

I’m not going to mention the pop song by Ms. Mendler at the end either. I’ve already removed it from my brain by listening to “Itsumo Nando Demo” on loop while writing this review (not really, but I should. *puts “Itsumo Nando Demo” on loop for the rest of the review*).


I’ve already said most of what I wanted to say about the characters in the “sound” section, but I will qualify that Miyazaki’s designs of the characters were, in general, superior to how the actors portrayed them. However, Arrietty isn’t as interesting as Miyazaki’s other female leads, in fact, of the Miyazaki works I’ve seen (Laputa Castle in the Sky, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, and Howl’s Moving Castle), Arrietty is among the weaker female protagonists. She isn’t as dynamic as Chihiro or Sophie, and not as strong as Sheeta or the Princess. Granted, even one of Miyazaki’s weaker characters is better than most characters in anime.

The other characters had their own unique personalities, but were largely one dimensional. I enjoyed the paranoid mother of Arrietty, the obsessive, over the top Hara, and the strong father figure despite them not having much roundness about their characters. However, as I mentioned in the story section, Arrietty is not a character driven story in my opinion. The characters are meant to be more universal in their traits so that we can focus on the world in which they live.


I definitely recommend watching this movie in theaters. The scale of it will probably result in the small screen not doing it justice. It’s Miyazaki, perhaps not at his finest, but near the top of his game. I think any anime fan would enjoy it, so if you live in the United States go watch it at your local theater before it’s too late!

9/10 story
10/10 animation
6.5/10 sound
7/10 characters
9/10 overall
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