Borrowers' Tiny World Comes Alive In 'Arrietty'

The new film The Secret World of Arrietty is based on Mary Norton's celebrated 1952 novel The Borrowers. It's about a race of tiny people who live among us but prefer to go unseen.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And very tiny people just a few inches tall are the subject of a magical animated story, a movie that opens in theaters this weekend. Kenneth Turan has this review.

KENNETH TURAN, BYLINE: "The Secret World of Arrietty" is based on Mary Norton's celebrated 1952 novel "The Borrowers," about a race of tiny people who live amongst us, but prefer to go unseen.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE SECRET WORLD OF ARRIETTY")

BRIDGIT MENDLER: (as Arrietty) My mother, father and I are all borrowers. We borrow things that beans won't miss if they're gone. Just little things: soap and cookies and sugar, all things that we need to survive.

TURAN: That's 14-year-old Arrietty, voiced by Bridgit Mendler. She's feisty and fearless, even though she's no longer than a teacup. But Arrietty gets into trouble when she accidentally allows a curious young boy to catch a glimpse of her.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE SECRET WORLD OF ARRIETTY")

DAVID HENRIE: (as Shawn) What do they call you?

MENDLER: (as Arrietty) Not that it's any of your business, but it's Arrietty.

HENRIE: (as Shawn) Arrietty. Could you at least come out so I can see you? I want to make sure I'm not dreaming.

TURAN: This all seems innocent enough, but Arrietty's father knows that even well-meaning humans can cause terrible damage to borrowers. Japan's Hayao Miyazaki, the great animator of the modern age, has had "The Secret World of Arrietty" on his mind for more than 40 years. He did not direct this version himself, but having planned and written the screenplay and handpicked the director, Miyazaki and his protective spirit hover over the production like a benevolent deity.

One of the pleasures of this film is how splendidly detailed it's made this small, small world. Formidable planning is needed to use rope and duct tape to climb cabinets and raid a human kitchen, and the little people involved need to be part-mountain climber and part-Navy SEAL commando to have even a chance of success. What makes "The Secret World of Arrietty" transporting is its ability to create a marvelous world for audiences to lose themselves in. At the screening I attended, after the last frame disappeared from the screen, no one rushed to leave their seats. Everyone wanted to hold onto the magic "Arrietty" created for as long as possible.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: Kenneth Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and the Los Angeles Times.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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