In 1952, Mary Norton began a series of children's books about 4-inch high people who lived in normal sized peoples homes and existed by swiping various things that wouldn't be noticed. She called the people and the book "The Borrowers".


It was moderately successful and thus led to follow-up books: The Borrowers Afield, The Borrowers Afloat, The Borrowers Aloft, and The Borrowers Avenged which was published in 1982.


There have been at least three or four attempts to bring the story to film, in both animated an live action form. The most familiar version - at least in the United States - was the 1997 release with John Goodman in Jim Broadbent. the only version to make it past the book was the extremely long John Henderson directed animated version that followed with "The Return of the Borrowers"; the BBC produced series never made it out of the UK!

The one thing that all the versions have in common are their inability to remain true to the written story. Something is always changed. Which is why I held out hope with Hiromasa Yonebayashi directing "The Secret World of Arrietty". He worked under Hayao Miyazaki on "Ponyo" and "Spirited Away" as an animator, so you'd assume he would pick up a few things on directing; but more importantly adapting a story.


Oh, silly me. Hayao Miyazaki wrote his own screenplays. Regardless, how difficult could it be to transfer characters from a book to animated format? Apparently it's impossible!


The story revolves around the 14-year old daughter, Arrietty Clock who lives with her mom Homily (Amy Poehler) and dad Pod (Will Arnett) under the floorboards of a home somewhere in the world. I say somewhere in the world, because there are enough inconsistencies to suit a politician. The house design is British-like, the car that grandma drives is a Benz, they speak U.S. English, the the background writing is Japanese! [FYI - In case you didn't figure it out, it's based in the UK]

The story progresses with Arrietty earning an opportunity to go borrowing with her father for the first time. The important thing is that she not be seen by any of the 'beans' (the big people) as that could spell disaster and force them to move. Of course, while borrowing a sugar cube, she gets spotted by Shawn, a teenage 'bean' staying at the house while waiting for heart surgery.


Despite her father's warnings, Arrietty and Shawn form a bond that they would soon need. Shawn, whose name is Pete in the 1997 live action version and George from the book series (I think that's how it goes) has heard the stories of the little people from his mother and is curious, but not destructive. In fact, up to this point the most dangerous thing in the house for the Clock family is the pet cat.


But that soon changes when the housemaid Hara (Carol Burnett) figures out the borrowers are real.


This is a departure from all versions of the stories. In the live action version, it was areal estate magnate who was the threat. And in the cartoon series, it was someone else.

That is not to say that the story isn't charming... it is, especially for children not familiar with the Clock family. It is also a nod to how global the film industry is. Consider that this version has been in global release for almost two years and is just now hitting the U.S. theaters. Needless to say, it is widely popular overseas and already clear profitability, regardless of the U.S. response. And that is the catch, American interest in Japanese anime is little more than cult status; it can not be expected to do any better than "Ponyo" or "Spirited Away" (which won Best Animated Film Oscar in 2003 - an especially slow animation year in the U.S.)


For those who grew up watching Speed Racer in the 70s, expect the same jet black eyes and exact same facial expressions. But also enjoy the warm color saturation that 

will remind you of a fine Expressionist Period painting. Fields look like they belong in George Seurat's A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.


"The Secret World of Arrietty" is charming, despite it's continuity flaws. Children will probably like it just as they did "Ponyo" - those that saw it. Disney is distributing it, so expect some sort of theater saturation.   -- GEOFF BURTON