'Secret World of Arrietty' Review: Finally a Disney Heroine Worth Sharing With Our Daughters

Secret World of ArriettyWhen my kid started bugging me about seeing The Secret World of Arrietty because she'd seen the movie trailer on TV, there was something vaguely familiar about the title. Arrietty. Arrietty. Where had I heard that name before?

It wasn't until I was sitting down one night actually watching the Disney Channel with her that it clicked. THAT Arrietty! The teeny weeny little girl who lives in the floorboards of a house! I remember her! Long before she was re-created for the big screen by legendary Japanese manga artist Hayao Miyazaki and voiced by up-and-coming teen star Bridget Mendler, Arrietty Clock was one of my heroes. And now Disney's bringing a new brand of girl power to the masses.

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Parents like me remember the little spitfire from the classic children's book series The Borrowers by Mary Norton (quick bit of trivia, Norton also wrote the story turned into one of my all time favorite kiddie flicks: Bedknobs and Broomsticks). But Disney's decision to take a movie created in Japan and re-voice it with American actors -- including Will Arnett and Amy Poehler -- seems to be as much about image as it does nostalgia. They're adding another strong female into their arsenal of characters to market to little girls.

The company has made a point of responding to the modern parents' complaint that the princesses of old were wilting wallflowers completely dependent on a man. The results have been spunky princesses like Tiana and Rapunzel and the upcoming Brave, the first Pixar film to feature a powerful female as the main character.

And parents should add Arrietty to that list. Sitting in the theater, I was drawn in by the delicate details of the manga style. But for my 6-year-old, it was all about the story: a teenage girl who lives beneath the floorboards of a proper house with her parents Homily and Pod. The wee creatures make their way in the world by "borrowing" from the human beings above -- only as much as they need. But being seen by one of those humans is out of the question ... until it happens to Arrietty.

Her relationship with a human boy named Sean is the catalyst for the type of action that will thrill the little ones. Her fearless attitude, even in the face of a cat who is 20 times her size, a human boy who is the equivalent of a skyscraper, and a wily housekeeper (Carol Burnett) intent on capturing her, saves the movie for young fans.

It's what kept my 6-year-old rapt, rooting for her new hero. And I'll be honest, I worried a half hour in that Arrietty wouldn't hold her interest. The film is slow moving, focused more on the lush renderings of the scene. That's fine for adults, but American kids tend to expect more. The voice cast is hampered by the need to match their lines to the Japanese style of simple nods rather than complicated conversations. Expect a lot of "uh huh" instead of "yes, blah, blah, blah."

But my daughter walked out of Arrietty with a new role model, the kind that a mother hopes her little girl will connect with. Next up: the bookstore to gather all the Mary Norton books to satisfy her questions about what happens next.

What kind of character are you looking for your daughter to look up to? Does Arrietty fit the bill?

 

Image via Walt Disney Entertainment

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