There's a gentle movie from Japan that's going to seem familiar to a lot of fans of the series of books about "The Borrowers."
That's because this version from Studio Ghibli, whose other delightful films include "Ponyo" and "Spirited Away," is based on those books by Mary Norton. The award-winning books have been family favorites since the 1950s (and some will remember that John Goodman starred in a movie version of "The Borrowers" during 1998).
Disney distributes many of the Japanese studio's films for American audiences, who will hear some familiar voices in "The Secret World of Arrietty." Amy Poehler is the voice of the mother, the father is voiced by Will Arnett and Hara the housekeeper is voiced by Carol Burnett.
The family members are tiny people who live secretly within the walls of homes. Arrietty (Bridget Mendler) lives happily with her parents, but she wonders whether they are the only Borrowers for miles around. Arrietty is a curious adventurer who is discovered by a boy named Shawn (David Henrie) while visiting the home where the Borrowers dwell.
Shawn finally does come face to face with Arrietty, who is about his age. The two are intrigued by each other, but Arrietty's father warns her that Borrowers must not be seen: It always leads to catastrophic consequences when they are spotted by "beans" (human beings).
Hara believes the stories she has heard about the little people who live within the walls. She suspects that Shawn is up to something involving the little people and goes so far as to call a pest-control service while she tries to track down and trap the little people, who have a lot to fear besides Hara: There's a cat that's interested in the tiny folks, too.
Anyone who is fascinated by miniatures or has loved playing with a dollhouse will enjoy the environment the Borrowers have created for themselves, right down to the postage-stamp "paintings" on their walls. The little people have to work hard to ensure that their secret home stays secure, and the way they accomplish everyday chores is clever and fun to see.
This isn't the sophisticated animation of Pixar, to be sure, but it is lovely in its own way, particularly with its lush, painterly landscapes. It's a sweet movie about the meaning of friendship that can be enjoyed by any member of your family.