Mary Norton's book The Borrowers has endured many an off-key screen adaptation, but it took translating into Japanese to finally get it right. Disney's English-language redirect of Studio Ghibli's anime version---featuring the voices of Amy Poehler, Will Arnett and Carol Burnett, among others---inserts a few broad-stroke clunkers, but the melancholy grace of Hayao Miyazaki's animation company's work endures.
The Secret World of Arrietty swoops seamlessly between worlds large and small, linking miniscule teenager Arrietty (Mendler) and heartsick "human bean" Shawn (Henrie). Abandoned by his overworked parents, the convalescent boy stumbles onto the little people's fragile ecosystem, and his clumsy attempts to improve their lot draw the attention of his malevolent housekeeper, who traps Arrietty's mother (Poehler) in a jar like a wayward cricket.
Tension between lead-footed humans and the "doomed species" beneath them dovetails neatly with Ghibli's habitual eco-themes, made concrete by the movie's breathtaking sense of scale. A kitchen cabinet looms like a sheer cliff face; even the silences seem larger. It's hardly the first movie to deal with thimble-size protagonists, but it's one of few animated fairy tales to genuinely transport the audience into their world and, in the process, let us see our own with fresh awe and respect.
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