I have not read The Borrowers books so I don’t know what sort of fidelity this movie keeps with the source material aside from keeping Arietty’s name. It displays great fidelity and continuity with the aesthetics and vision of Studio Ghibli, however. Afterwards, I remarked to my friends with whom I saw the film that it would almost have been natural, and perhaps even a delightful cameo, if in one of the scenes showing the house from the road, the producers had drawn Chihiro and her family driving by on their way to the action of their own movie, Spirited Away. The setting of a house amongst the woods just outside of a city, is very similar to some of the early scenes in Spirited Away.
And though both movies involve a girl coming of age and boy who protects her, it is here that the similarities end. In contrast to the complex mystical story of Spirited Away, The Secret World of Arietty is a simple tale, more or less grounded in the real world, but equally moving.
Studio Ghibli movies always seem to have wonderful scenes of nature in them, but this one is a true masterpiece, as it focuses in on the very small, both indoors and out–and the colors, lighting, shadows, and depths of focus of the leaves and water droplets and beams of light in the trees and poppies in the meadow are breathtaking. Moreover, often the “camera” angles, from the perspective of a little borrower looking up, add to these effects. And as usual with Studio Ghibli films, it does not matter at all that the visual effects are not at Pixar’s level of algorithmically generated perfection. Indeed, because we are not worried about photographic fidelity, as with some types of painting, we can pay attention to how the artists have captured light and color, and revel in it.
And though this artistry alone makes the film worthy of your attention, and the juxtaposition of miniature and the large items in the household (which seems to perpetually attract us) are wonderfully depicted, it is the character of the story, itself, which moved me the most.
It is also true that Arietty is beautiful and delightful—a true pixie dream girl, to appropriate a trope and leave off the unstable “manic” part—and yet it becomes clear that romance and that sort of happy ending are not really what this film is about. Indeed, the ending leaves one wistful, longing, and deeply moved—moved by the brief interlude of beauty and love that we have seen, between a brave and beautiful and great and wounded heart.