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The house of Ghibli sprinkles it inimitable fairy dust over Mary Norton's classic children's tale of a family of little people who live by secretly 'borrowing' from their unsuspecting human neighbours
Ghibli has done it again. While Pixar rakes in the cash at the expense of artistic credibility and the ultimate Potter behemoth saturates the summer box office, the Japanese animation studio chimes in with another timeless, quietly breathtaking work of art. Taking as his starting point Mary Norton's The Borrowers, Studio Ghibli co-founder Hayao Miyazaki who wrote the script for Arrietty but left its direction to his protégé Hiromasa Yonebayashi. With it, he seems to be - as usual, in complete contrast to Anglo-American studio patterns - dialling down and fine-tuning both his narrative and artistic ambitions, rather than exploding them into the 3D equivalent of an overpowering belch onto defenceless infants and harangued parents.
The result is, predictably, stunning to behold: the interior décor of young borrower Arietty and her family's mini-homestead, decked out with giant-floral patterned wallpaper and chockfull of charmingly outsized miscellany - thimbles and pen-nibs for flower vases, insect wings in lieu of feather quills - is halfway between a verdant jungle retreat and mad hatter's jumble sale. Outside the family's diminutive four walls, the animation naturally makes the most of the disjunction between 'the little people' and their looming surroundings - nails protruding from floorboards provide footholds and stairways for Arrietty and her father Pod - while the sight of fearless 14-year-old, drawing-pin lance at her side, surveying the dizzying panorama of her human neighbour's garden from a rooftop slate is the perfect display of her adventurous spirit (and perfectly in keeping with Miyazaki's trademark brand of resilient, compassionate young heroines).
Arrietty's complement is Sho - a sickly human boy, abandoned by his mother to a kindly aunt, who is recuperating in the house above which Arrietty and her family secretly live. When Arrietty is spotted by Sho one day, a friendship begins to blossom between the pair, despite the warnings of Arrietty's parents that all human contact must be avoided. Their cautious courtship is as delicately drawn as the closed world they inhabit, though, as fans of Mary Norton's books will be pleased to find, despite the occasionally cloying impulses of Cecile Corbel's Celtic-themed score, Miyazaki doesn't allow his tale to dissolve into a puddle of saccharine sentiment. Sticking to Norton's broad outline, he keeps Arrietty's adventure open-ended and, what's more, the prospect of a sequel in sight.
In a nutshell
A blend of exquisitely imaginative animation and good old-fashioned storytelling, Studio Ghibli has pulled it out of the bag yet again, offering a miniature corrective to the brash 3D beasts customarily trained on the Haribo demographic