Earlier versions of Mary Norton’s popular YA novel THE BORROWERS have emphasized plucky slapstick comradery against the problems of scale for a family 4 inches tall secretly living amid normal-sized human ‘giants.’ Like the 1997 live-action Disney pic, a natural follow-up to HONEY, I SHRUNK THE KIDS/’89. But this elegant iteration from Studio Ghibli’s Hiromasa Yonebayashi, working off a treatment by master animator Hayao Miyazaki, is all adolescent melancholy and wistful/wishful watercolor halftones. It’s lovely to look at, but its inner calm & sense of quiet acceptance (Buddhist?/Zen?) has the unfortunate effect of boosting a creepy Freudian undertone in its main characters, while its impossible puppy love story, as played out between a miniature 14-yr-old girl and a depressed invalid boy, turns all gooey, fatalistic gloom. (Plus slightly weird sexual tension when he ‘palms’ her.) With flat vocal perfs by its Stateside cast adding to the general ennui, it’s less THE BORROWERS and more TINY PILFERERS. Even a desperate lunge toward suspense & comic relief in the third act with exterminators & an excitable housekeeper hardly cause a ripple. This one goes wrong from the core.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Though Arrietty turns the pages of her book left-to-right, most of the cast has a generic Western look . . . except for a Wild Boy little person and the family housekeeper, both drawn with Asian/Japanese features. An odd choice even if the original story is British.
DOUBLE-BILL: Everybody forgets about the delightful, and technically dazzling, DARBY O’GILL AND THE LITTLE PEOPLE/’59 featuring an amazingly young Sean Connery in an early lead.