Film Review: The Secret World of Arrietty (2010)

The Secret World of Arrietty is an animated fantasy film by the famed Japanese anime studio, Studio Ghibli. The film is a loose adaptation of the children’s literary classic, The Borrowers by Mary Norton. As with Norton’s novel, the film follows a family of little people – Borrowers – who live under the floors and in the walls of a human house. These Borrowers “borrow”, as their name suggests, picking up this and that and bits and bobs to create their homes within human homes.

It is a realm ripe for visualization, and Studio Ghibli does it justice. Discarded and lost human devices are collected and ingeniously repurposed for Borrower purposes. Paperclips, pins, screws, sugar cubes, tissues, tape, earrings – all are reused in inventive and engaging ways by this family of Borrowers.

The cardinal rule for all Borrowers is that they must never be seen by humans. If they are sighted by us giants, they must disappear, move, get away immediately. Humans, you see, are not to be trusted.

The Borrower Seen

Arrietty is a young teenaged Borrower, living in a house with her parents, Homily and Pod. Homily is a nervous, homebody little woman, whose whole being is centered on making a cozy home. Pod is a calm, problem-solving inventor, who daily embarks on missions to borrow items from the humans in the house. Arrietty longs to join her father on these missions, but her very first mission goes dreadfully awry.

She is seen.

Arrietty is seen by Shō, a young, teenaged boy, who has come to reside with his great aunt. Shō is sick, requiring a heart operation. He is awaiting the operation, alone, scared, abandoned by his too-busy parents, sinking into apathy and bitterness.


But then he sees magic in the everyday. He sees Arrietty. It ignites a light in him, a hope. And, he tries to befriend her.

Arrietty initially ignores his overtures, but her own curiosity gets the best of her. And against all parental interdictions, Arrietty converses with a human. This friendship, naturally, sets in motion all sorts of repercussions. Shō’s attempts to help Arrietty damage irrevocably. The housekeeper of Shō’s aunt goes on a Borrower hunt. Arrietty, Pod and Homily must move.

Hope Found

The Secret World of Arrietty is about hope, about being forced out of routines, recurrent worries, and facing the great unknown with hope and courage. It’s about facing your own mortality and choosing to live as best and as long as you can, despite defective hearts and dwindling species’ numbers. Indeed, there are apparently not many Borrowers left.

Despite good intentions, humans often bring ruin and extinction upon the planet – that point is touched upon in the film. The human obsession with dissecting the world’s mysteries does just that, dissects and destroys the magic of everyday. So, there are larger philosophical discussions at play in this “kids’” movie. And a heralding of life’s mysteries – that there are and should be mysteries and unknowables in this life. That is what makes life, that sometimes we just have to believe and hope.


As with all Studio Ghibli films, The Secret World of Arrietty is beautifully animated, thought-provoking, pensive, subtle. Kids and adults alike can and will find much to enjoy in its story and visualization. And, if you’re like this mom, you might just find yourself a wee bit verklempt at the end. Because, you know, Borrowers must return to the hidden realm. And humans must go on with the fading memory of a little piece of everyday magic in their mundane lives – and with hope.


Where to Watch: DVD.

Content Note: Rated G. There is nothing to come after here.

Photo Credits: Studio Ghibli.


Four and a half corset rating

“You had me at hello.”


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