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Parent’s Guide to The Secret World of Arrietty from Studio Ghibli

Navigating anime movies can be difficult for parents who aren’t familiar with the genre. It is my desire that this post will serve as a guide so you can enjoy The Secret World of Arrietty with your children.

As always, use your own discretion when selecting movies for your family.

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The Secret World of Arrietty: Summary

Arrietty is a “borrower”, a tiny human who lives with her parents under the baseboards and borrows what she needs from the humans above. On her very first borrowing, she is seen and addressed by Sho, an ill young man who has come to his grandmother’s house to convalesce with rumors of the little people his mother claims to have seen. How will this unexpected encounter transform them both? 

The Secret World of Arrietty: Movie Information

Arrietty is an interesting piece in the Studio Ghibli canon. Like Howl’s Moving Castle and in contrast to most Studio Ghibli films, it is an adaptation of a Western children’s fantasy novel; in this case, Mary Norton’s The Borrowers

And like The Cat Returns, it was not directed by Hayao Miyazaki or Isao Takahata, the co-founders of Studio Ghibli. Instead, this film was the directorial debut of one of their long-time animators, Hiromasa Yonebayashi, who contributed to nine previous Studio Ghibli films including Howl’s Moving Castle and Ponyo. Yonebayashi would go on to direct two more films for Studio Ghibli before joining Studio Ponoc. 

Arrietty is also unique in that there is no magic. In fact, there’s almost nothing objectionable to mention–no magic, no violence, no blood, no cursing, no smoking or drinking. There are only three things I feel discerning parents should be aware of: two startling moments of unexpected loud sounds (one as Arrietty is talking with Sho in the window; another when Pod is making a basket); Sho says at one point that he’s dying (although he doesn’t die on-screen); and one frightening moment when Homily is abducted with a lot of screaming. On the whole, this is an immersive and gentle adventure with just enough plot to stay engaged but no thrills or intensity that children as young as age 5 could enjoy. 

As different as it may seem from other Studio Ghibli films, at its heart is a familiar core. The movie is absolutely gorgeous to look at, a real visual feast. The aesthetics are at once masterful and inviting, cozily European inspired but bursting with nature. Arrietty is a strong, brave heroine who faces her challenge (trusting and communicating with someone very different than herself) and triumphs. 

In my opinion, the best part of this film is the delightful, magical sense of scale — seeing familiar objects rendered huge. Spoons the size of a man, a sugar cube as big as a package, a straight pin for a sword, flowers for trees, a refrigerator transformed into an immeasurable mountain. Even as an adult, these scenes provoked a child-like sense of wonder, and I’m sure it will be rich fodder for your family’s imagination. 

The Secret World of Arrietty: Where to Watch

Watch the movie trailer:

Purchase the movie on Blu-ray or DVD.

The Secret World of Arrietty: Discussion Questions

  • Are the borrowers thieves? Why or why not? 
  •  Contrast the borrower’s home underground with the house above ground. Which one do you think is better, and why? 
  • Should Arrietty’s family move after Sho sees them? Why or why not? (This might be good for pausing and asking before the movie’s over, to see if your answer changes!)
  • Why are Sho and Grandma kind and accepting of the Borrowers, and why does Haru wants to trap them? Which reaction would you have? 
  • How is Arrietty the same as or different from other Studio Ghibli heroines? (Kiki, Chihiro, Sheeta, Nausicaa, Mei, Satsuki, Sophie) 

This post is one of several in our series, “A Parent’s Guide to Studio Ghibli.

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Ashley Tieman
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Ashley Tieman

Ashley Tieman is a book loving, Japanese speaking, Nintendo playing, comic book reading, anime watching, Christ following, definitely extroverted homeschool mom to two kids and three cats in Memphis, TN.
Ashley Tieman
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