Studio Ghibli is a studio that really knows how to make such amazing animated slice-of-life films. There are many I can name that have such cozy and pleasant atmospheres from "My Neighbor Totoro", "Kiki's Delivery Service", "Only Yesterday", and "Whisper of the Heart". All of these films are just wonderful to watch and leave me feeling happy and calm by the end due to their simple nature. However, throughout the 2000s, Studio Ghibli hadn't made a slice-of-life animated film as they mainly focused on larger-scale films including the likes of "Spirited Away" and "Howl's Moving Castle" with the closest seeming to capture that vibe being "Ponyo" despite some of its larger setpieces. After eleven years, Studio Ghibli finally returned back to those films in 2010 with "The Secret World of Arrietty", a film that I enjoyed quite a bit. It may not capture the magic of films like "Totoro" or "Kiki" quite as well, but it sure does leave a nice impression by the end which made it another wonderful watch from the studio.
In a house in the rural countryside, a family of tiny people who call themselves Borrowers has been living inside the walls borrowing mundane items from humans like sugar cubes, tissues, and pins to survive. This includes mother Homily (Shinobu Otake), father Pod (Tomokazu Miura), and their daughter Arrietty (Mirai Shida) who have been aware that the humans whom they call "beans" are quite dangerous and can lead to their deaths. One day during her first night of borrowing, Arrietty is discovered by a sick young boy staying at the house named Shō (Ryunosuke Kamiki) who has been staying with his aunt before his upcoming heart surgery. While Pod and Homily tell Arrietty to stay away from the humans, Arrietty starts to bond with Shō and begins to suspect that humans might not be as dangerous as they seem. However, she still has to stay hidden from the others as the family begins preparations to leave before other humans, particularly the maid Haru (Kirin Kiki), begins to suspect something wrong.
Despite it not being as good as their finer films, it was quite nice to see another slice of life film from Studio Ghibli as their last one was "My Neighbors the Yamadas" way back in 1999. This is a film that has such a simple and comfortable vibe that it felt like I was being wrapped up in a warm blanket and there was a lot in it that I loved seeing. The film's story is based on the children's book "The Borrowers" by Mary Norton and it's a perfect fit for animation and Studio Ghibli. Despite there being many adaptations of the book in live action mostly being made for TV, the story of tiny people living in the walls seemed perfect for animation and it works even more considering that Hayao Miyazaki, who wrote the screenplay for the film, named it one of his favorite children's books. Miyazaki and director Hiromasa Yonebayshi really make a lot of wonderful scenes in the film that were both fun to watch and just peaceful as well, even if I might have wanted a bit more out of it. My favorite scenes of the film are easily the ones where Arrietty explores the house since they had such a large scale to it. One of the very best scenes is near the beginning of the film where Pod takes Arrietty into the walls of the house for the first time and shows her what it's like to borrow from the humans. It was quite an exciting sequence and you can really feel the size and scale of the house as the two are trying to get from one room to the other. I also loved the quiet moments and thought the themes that Miyazaki handles are as lovely as usual. This film does tackle the theme of not being afraid of death and unlike his son's clumsy execution of the theme in "Tales from Earthsea", Miyazaki and Yonebayshi do it quite beautifully here as we see Shō talk to Arrietty about his heart condition and his upcoming surgery. Despite it being quite a scary thought and Arrietty being overwhelmed by sadness hearing it, he's not afraid of it. I wasn't expecting this film to talk about the theme, but I really love how well it's handled here.
As far as the animation goes, it's once again quite stunning. I think what makes this film quite spectacular to look at is easily the size and scale of the house from the Borrower's point of view. One thing that animation can do better than live action is showing things from a tiny person's point of view and this film takes full advantage of it. There's so much attention to detail put into the backgrounds and the objects we see the Borrowers utilizing like walking on a row of nails and climbing staples in the wood. Rooms in the regular house like the kitchen and bedroom have such a large feel and I think the atmosphere and sound design really enhance it. There's also that attention to detail in the animation that Ghibli brings once again, particularly a moment where we see ants crawling over a sugar cube and Arrietty trying to shoo them away. I also thought the character animation was once again quite lovely as usual despite a few awkward close-up shots of the humans, particularly one scene near the beginning involving a close-up on Shō's mouth that was a bit unintentionally uncomfortable. I really loved the characters as well, particularly Arrietty. While she may not be among my favorite Ghibli heroines, she is still one that I loved to watch due to her curiosity. You can see really her conflicts about whether or not the humans were as dangerous as she's been told and if she should trust Shō or not. Plus, I admired her brave personality and fearless attitude. The other characters were fun too with Pod being a supportive if somewhat stern father and Homily a scaredy cat mother. I also particularly enjoyed a Borrower hunter the family encounters named Spiller (Tatsuya Fujiwara) though I do wish he was in the film more than he was. The humans were also nice characters too with Shō being a calm and quiet character embracing the world and the beauty within it before his operation and his lovely friendship with Arietty and Haru being a funny villain trying to prove the existence of "little people" even if her reasons to exterminate them are bit fuzzy.
Still though, "The Secret World of Arrietty" is a lovely slice of life film from Studio Ghibli. The story is quite calm and has some fun setpieces, the animation is beautiful and filled with great scale, and the characters are all memorable even if some could've been fleshed out more. While this may not be one of Studio Ghibli's best films, it's still quite a good one that I do recommend watching. It's a film that might have a small scale but packs some big punches.