In "The Secret World of Arrietty," even cats can be threats.
REVIEW:"The Secret World of Arrietty" really does create a world all to itself, immersing viewers so completely into the land of these tiny people that you may miss them when you walk out into the theater lobby.
The Borrowers, based on Mary Norton's beloved books, are just like us, in shrunken form. They live under the floorboards of our homes, creeping out at night to "borrow" sugar cubes, Kleenex, and other items we'll never miss. And they've managed to spin our leftovers into dazzling living spaces decorated as elaborately as Faberge eggs.
Teenage Arrietty travels with her father into the big people's world on her first borrowing expedition, in which jumping from staple to staple on a floorboard or using tape-wrapped shoes to stick to a wall become as engrossing as any trek Indiana Jones ever went on. But disaster strikes when the duo is spotted by Shaun, a teenage boy who's come to stay at his mother's childhood home as he awaits a heart operation.
He doesn't want to exterminate the Borrowers, just befriend them, as his mother and grandfather always believed in the little people. But once seen, the Borrowers feel they must flee, thus destroying Arrietty and Shaun's friendship before it even gets started.
The animation is more like a delicate watercolor than the eye-popping colors of Pixar. It's done by Japanese animation Studio Ghibli ("Spirited Away," "Ponyo") and has been released here with American actors dubbing over Japanese voices. (Carol Burnett sounds completely insane as Haru, the maid who's determined to exterminate the little people.)
The details of the Borrowers' hidden world are dazzling -- single drops of green tea fill entire cups, earrings serve as climbing hooks, a plastic binder clip holds up Arrietty's ponytail. And there's a gentleness to this movie, a rare G-rated treat with no real scares. Spoiler: Even the cat isn't much to be feared, despite Arrietty's hysterical mother Homily's rants. (Amy Poehler voices Homily, with real-life husband Will Arnett as husband Pod.)
It's hard not to fall completely under the spell of Arrietty's world, and the two 4-year-old girls who accompanied me sat in rapt silence. A trip to the library to check out a "Borrowers" book -- plus endless hours of playing "I'm Arrietty! You're Shaun!" -- ensued. Norton has four more books -- any chance for a series? We know some kids who wouldn't mind borrowing time to spend with Arrietty and her clan.