Much loved by adults and children alike, Studio Ghibli’s contribution to the world of cinema has so far been a continually welcomed dose of adult friendly childhood fantasy, which, continues to accelerate beyond the now seemingly redundant benchmark Disney had previously set for hand-drawn animation. Last year’s Ponyo managed to mesmerise audiences with its charming retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s ‘The Little Mermaid’, so with Arriety similarly adapted from a much loved children’s classic (The Borrowers) it would be fair to say that expectations are high...
Arriety is a young borrower, or ‘little person’ as they’re known to those who believe in them. She lives within the walls of a house inhabited by human ‘beans’ and has done so comfortably for all of her life, enjoying the overgrown playground of the neighbouring garden whilst frolicking with the local insects. Thanks to an essential combination of ingenious ingenuity, accelerated Darwinian adaptability and some crafty ‘borrowing’, Arriety and her parents have managed to fight the odds and survive within this oversized world fraught with perils, whilst remaining unbeknown to the humans they’re dependant on for sustenance.
One morning a young boy, pale and fragile, arrives at the house. His name is Sho and he’s returning to his mother’s family home to stay with his aunt in the hope the fresh air and quite solitude of the countryside will help him gain some much needed peaceful rest before his forthcoming, potentially fatal but necessary heart operation. He’s aware of the mythology concerning these ‘little people’ from his mothers handed down stories of youthful exuberance and childhood adventures whilst growing up in this rural paradise. However, he took little notice of these imaginative tales until one night he awakes to the sound of a fallen sugar cube borrowed and accidentally drop by Arriety whilst embarking on her first borrowing trip.
Despite her parent’s warnings about making herself visible to the humans, Arriety soon embarks on a touching relationship with Sho which despite its unconventional nature will ultimately give them both the strength they need to overcome the future obstacles they both will face.
As to be expected from a Ghibli film there’s an underlying message warning us about mankind’s destructive nature towards its own environment but unlike previous efforts such as Nausicaa it’s dealt with subtly and never seems over played or needlessly preachy. This delicately created subplot builds a solid foundation from which this emotionally charged tale of adolescent confusion can present itself, allowing the film’s central relationship to gloriously flourish completely unhindered by external influences and appearing all the more naturally conceived because of it. Ironically this tactful approach actually helps the hidden environmental message resonate more powerfully than its central, yet ultimately more subjective premise of teenage confusion.
From the rigorous attention to detail towards the imaginative inventions used by these petit scavengers to the soft lilting score that gently flows through the films innocently sweet dialogue it’s difficult not to fall in love with Arriety. This fantastical voyage into a magical realm of child fantasy imbued within reality may not reach the higher echelons of the Ghibli franchise but it comfortable sits amongst the companies’ already delightful back catalogue of dutifully loved animated gems.
Arriety is unquestionably another example of the pure cinematic joy continually being produced by Studio Ghibli. It’s enchantingly petit world creates a delightful piece of escapism which ensures the film’s heart warming atmosphere of childhood adventure is a journey you’ll want to repeat over and over again.