A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Secret World of Arrietty is a charming and unexpectedly profound anime film from the Japanese studio responsible for movies like Ponyo, Spirited Away, and Howl's Moving Castle. It's full of heart but also has some sad moments and tackles some somber themes -- including illness (Arrietty befriends a child who is said to be dying) and estranged family relationships -- which may make it a little intense for the youngest moviegoers. There's a kidnapping, and a sick young boy's mother sends him away to stay with a relative for a while -- a separation that may upset some little kids. But overall the movie is very sweet, and there's no swearing, smoking, drinking, strong violence, or overly sexy content to worry about.
What's the story?
Suffering from a weakened heart that will soon land him in the hospital for surgery, young Shawn (voiced by David Henrie) is sent by his too-busy mother to the countryside to stay with his aunt in THE SECRET WORLD OF ARRIETTY. At first it seems like the housekeeper (Carol Burnett) will be his only companion, but then Shawn glimpses Arrietty (Bridgit Mendler), a fellow teenager who's anything but typical: She's only a few inches tall and comes from a family of Borrowers, mini-people who live in the walls and floors of the house and "borrow" small items for their use from the big residents. Despite Arrietty's doubts, she and Shawn become friends. But their kind and gentle friendship may be the very reason that Arrietty and her family must move away.
Is it any good?
The beauty of Studio Ghibli movies is that they have such depth and heart, and this film is a perfect example. On the surface is the wonder of a teen discovering a miniature counterpart who lives in a world much like his own, only within the walls and under the floorboards of his house. But even more substantial is how the movie straightforwardly presents the plight of a boy who's often left alone and is lonely, and of a girl who doesn't get to interact with others like herself. In Ghibli movies, children and teens are allowed to be sad, despondent, worried, afraid, and burdened -- it's not a sugar-coated world. And yet the story unfurls with no heavy-handedness, just a realism that doesn't condescend to its young audience. Our kids can handle complicated material, as long as it's handled intelligently and with compassion.
Viewers used to the whiz bang, frenetic pace of other animated features may find The Secret World of Arrietty slow-moving and lacking in special effects, but that's its strength. The artwork is gorgeous and meticulous, the story beautiful. It doesn't need thunderous gimmicks or musical cues -- or characters so outlandish that they're ready-made for collectibles bought at fast-food restaurants -- to be a wonderful movie. It simply is.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why Shawn's mother sent him away to the country. How did that make you feel? Do you think it was a good decision?
What do you think The Secret World of Arrietty is trying to teach audiences? Do all movies and TV shows for kids need to teach them something?
Families who want to learn more about this kind of animation may want to watch other anime films together. How are they similar to each other, and how are they different from most American-made animated movies?
Kids: If you've read the book this movie is based on, how does it compare? Which do you like better?
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.