The Secret World of Arrietty - Reviews

Alt titles: Karigurashi no Arrietty, The Borrower Arrietty

ThatAnimeSnob's avatar
Jul 15, 2012

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
Qplayer's avatar
Mar 3, 2012


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
Sorox's avatar
Jun 23, 2011

Although I've never actually read the story itself, it doesn't mean I can't give this a proper review.



The story is, in the opinion of an avid anime watcher and critic, wonderful. The story follows a week in the life of Arietty the borrower and a boy with a heart condition named Sho. The story itself is close to flawless, and the ending leaves you wanting more.



The animation is beautiful. Colourful backgrounds accopanied by close to flawless movement. Everything is detailed in a way that you will be in awe throughout the entire film. At least, that's how I was :P


Now, I'm not the best person to be judging sounds here, but from what I've heard, it's great. The music literally brought me to tears at one part (accompanied by the appropritae scene of course). The music composition is great and I'm sure many who've watched this can agree.



The characters, even though only a weeks time has passed throughout the story, go through a lot of development. Sho ges from being depressed to being ready for life at it's fullest, while Arietty goes from a lonely teen with family commitment to well.... I couldn't really figure out her motives at the end. (sorry)


Overall, this is a great movie that any anime enthuthiast will love. Even those who aren't can find something like about this movie.


9/10 story
9/10 animation
9/10 sound
9/10 characters
9/10 overall
galacticdude7's avatar
Feb 27, 2012

When I first saw the poster for this movie in the lobby of my local movie theatre, I was excited to see another Studio Ghilbi film. I went and saw the movie while I was home on Spring Break, and I was not dissapointed at all by The Secret World of Arriety.


I found that the story was quite interesting and for the most part it was able to keep my attention. The main plot is about this boy named Sho (Sean in the English dub), who is very sickly, so he goes out to the country to his mother's old house to get some rest before he has his surgery. Meanwhile there is a family of Borrowers living underneath the house that Sho is in. Sho befriends the teenage daughter of the family named Arrietty, but because the family has been seen by people, they must leave the house that they are in. There are many more aspects to the film, but I have put in enough spoilers already, and don't want to ruin the movie for anyone who hasn't seen it who is reading this review. While the story is compelling, there are times when the pacing is slow, and the film can seem kind of dull. Other than these moments, the story itself is quite good.


I loved the visuals in this film. You can tell that the animators put a lot of effort into this film. I especially loved the visuals dealing with liquids at the scale of the Arrietty and her parents. I love how the water bubbles up with surface tension, like the liquids would at that small scale. The backgrounds were quite detailed and they became more than backgrounds and became environments for the characters, and that is what backgrounds should be, environments for the characters to interact with.


The characters is what really makes this movie. This film was able to create vivid characters that the audience really cares about. I found both Sho and Arrietty to be quite relateable and interesting to watch. These characters were characters that I legitamently cared for while watching this film.


Studio Ghilbi strikes again with another wonderful film. If you are a fan of their work, then you will love this film, and even if you aren't, then watch it anyways. It is one of the few family films that anyone can enjoy.

7/10 story
10/10 animation
?/10 sound
9/10 characters
8/10 overall
kamikoluna17's avatar
Dec 21, 2021

Beautifully crafted and made. I love the whole story. A magical, heartwarming, sweet, and simple yet so unique movie for all kinds of ages. It was fun with a great sense of adventure, through the film you'll feel like even the smallest childhood fantasies might be real.

I remember the first time I watch this movie. This is actually the first Ghibli movie I've watched, recommended by my best friend and brother Jao Wonders. This particular movie opens my eyes to other Studio Ghibli movies.

Rewatched: 12/21/2021

9/10 story
9/10 animation
10/10 sound
9/10 characters
9.5/10 overall