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The Secret World of Arrietty

Sr. Rose Pacatte, F.S.P.

This beautifully animated adaptation of the multi-award-winning 1952 children’s novel by Mary Norton, “The Borrowers” is one of the gentlest films I have seen in a long time.

Arrrietty and her family are little people. They believe that if human “beans” see them their curiosity will destroy them and therefore they must move every time this happens. Arrietty and her family think they are the only little people left on the earth.
Arrietty, her mother Homily, and her father Pod (for all voices please see, live under the floorboards of a country house tended to be Hara (voice of Carol Burnett, US version).  Pod is somber and wise and works to make things for his family. He goes on “borrowing” expeditions at night to obtain provisions from the human “beans” who live in the house above them.
When Arrietty is almost 14 her mother permits her to go on her first borrowing adventure. Arrietty and Pod are excellent climbers who trek up and down piles of stuff, fabric, and table legs, to borrow what they need. Pod reminds Arrietty that Borrowers don’t hoard things.
One day a regular sized boy named Shawn arrives at the country house. His great aunt has brought him there so he can get regain some strength before he has heart surgery in a few weeks.  His parents are divorced and always working and he seems sad. He sees Arrietty and she sees him. But she is not as frightened as her parents. The two young people begin to communicate.
Of course things get complicated because there is a legend about the little people; Shawn’s mother and grandfather believed in them. In fact, they built a dollhouse just for them but it seems the little people never knew about it. When Hara realizes that Shawn has discovered the little people, she sets out to capture one.
“The Secret World of Arrietty” comes to us from first-time Japanese director Hiromasa Yonebayashi whose previous animation efforts include “Howl’s Moving Castle” and “Spirited Away.”  Hayao Miyazaki, who is certainly the most prodigious and significant rival to Disney to ever emerge on the scene, wrote “Arrietty”.
This is a movie that lets us see the world from a different perspective, that of ‘the other’, the little people who live in hiding and are always on the move in order to survive. Shawn, who himself needs care, is very careful to treat the Borrowers with respect and is always aware of his size in relation to Arrietty who is just big enough to pick up a sugar cube.
The theme of the little people “borrowing” only what they need is very important to Pod but Homily seems to be a collector and she is very anxious about their safety. Only living with what we need is a good message for us during Lent. But is there a larger ethical question here: are they stealing? Do they have a right to “borrow” or to steal in a world that is too big for them?
Pod also has something wise to say about violence when Arrietty finds a weapon (a straight pin).
I don’t know if “The Secret World of Arrietty” is a good adaptation of the book “The Borrowers” (actually there is a series of them) but I loved the beautiful world of the film, the moral imaginary journey of trying to live and be happy by walking in the shoes, or seeing through the eyes, of people different that me. And I appreciated the girl Arrietty’s gumption and the boy Shawn’s quiet strength in adversity. Finally, here is a film with two complementary heroes, each respectful of the other and courageous in their own way.

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Charles de Foucauld: Born into an aristocratic family in Strasbourg, France, Charles was orphaned at the age of six, raised by his devout grandfather, rejected the Catholic faith as a teenager and joined the French army. Inheriting a great deal of money from his grandfather, Charles went to Algeria with his regiment, but not without his mistress, Mimi. <br /><br />When he declined to give her up, he was dismissed from the army. Still in Algeria when he left Mimi, Charles reenlisted in the army. Refused permission to make a scientific exploration of nearby Morocco, he resigned from the service. With the help of a Jewish rabbi, Charles disguised himself as a Jew and in 1883 began a one-year exploration that he recorded in a book that was well received. <br /><br />Inspired by the Jews and Muslims whom he met, Charles resumed the practice of his Catholic faith when he returned to France in 1886. He joined a Trappist monastery in Ardeche, France, and later transferred to one in Akbes, Syria. Leaving the monastery in 1897, Charles worked as gardener and sacristan for the Poor Clare nuns in Nazareth and later in Jerusalem. In 1901 he returned to France and was ordained a priest. <br /><br />Later that year Charles journeyed to Beni-Abbes, Morocco, intending to found a monastic religious community in North Africa that offered hospitality to Christians, Muslims, Jews, or people with no religion. He lived a peaceful, hidden life but attracted no companions. <br /><br />A former army comrade invited him to live among the Tuareg people in Algeria. Charles learned their language enough to write a Tuareg-French and French-Tuareg dictionary, and to translate the Gospels into Tuareg. In 1905 he came to Tamanrasset, where he lived the rest of his life. A two-volume collection of Charles' Tuareg poetry was published after his death. <br /><br />In early 1909 he visited France and established an association of laypeople who pledged to live by the Gospels. His return to Tamanrasset was welcomed by the Tuareg. In 1915 Charles wrote to Louis Massignon: “The love of God, the love for one’s neighbor…All religion is found there…How to get to that point? Not in a day since it is perfection itself: it is the goal we must always aim for, which we must unceasingly try to reach and that we will only attain in heaven.”   <br /><br />The outbreak of World War I led to attacks on the French in Algeria. Seized in a raid by another tribe, Charles and two French soldiers coming to visit him were shot to death on December 1, 1916. <br />Five religious congregations, associations, and spiritual institutes (Little Brothers of Jesus, Little Sisters of the Sacred Heart, Little Sisters of Jesus, Little Brothers of the Gospel and Little Sisters of the Gospel) draw inspiration from the peaceful, largely hidden, yet hospitable life that characterized Charles. He was beatified on November 13, 2005. American Catholic Blog You know, O my God, I have never desired anything but to love you, and I am ambitious for no other glory.

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