Several months ago, we went out to enjoy Fathom’s presentation of The Secret World of Arrietty. I read a little bit about it on Wikipedia and learned that just one year later, a live-action adaptation of the same source material was made. It’s a BBC movie made in conjunction with NBC / Universal. Was it shown on American TV, I wonder? I’m not sure how I missed this; I keep an eye on Doctor Who news when it isn’t being shown, and I’m sure I would have noticed news stories about Christopher Eccleston starring in a fantasy film like this, but I suppose it just never registered.
Anyway, this is a Christmas movie that features Eccleston as Pod Clock, one of the borrowing little people who live under the floorboards of a nice house in London. While many of the same elements from Mary Norton’s original novels are here in this version – a doll house, a sympathetic young human bean who wants to help, a grandmother who’s obsessed with the little “thieves” – this is a very different take on the adventure from what we saw in Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s animated film. The threat this time isn’t just the grandmother, it’s a lovestruck, fame-obsessed zoologist at a local university and his bloodthirsty graduate assistant.
While there’s a part of me that regrets that Stephen Fry, who plays the professor, doesn’t get much of an opportunity to share any face-off time against Eccleston, I did enjoy this much more urban take on the source material about as much as the pastoral Japanese version. Here, the Clock family is not very far from a large community of Borrowers. There’s a huge group that lives in the long-shuttered City Road Underground station, and after the family is discovered, they can make their way there for help.
They’re discovered after teenaged Arrietty, played by Aisling Loftus in full you-never-let-me-do-anything sixteen years old mode, makes the acquaintance of a Bean, setting everything in motion. Soon enough, her parents are captured, and she has to work with the Bean and another Borrower who knows more about her parents than she does, to rescue them. Our son was really pleased with the shenanigans in the climax, where poor Stephen Fry charges down university corridors chasing after a remote-controlled car. If Disney had made this in the seventies, it would have been Keenan Wynn or Harry Morgan or somebody. The special effects and the accents may change, but there is a formula to a successful kids’ movie, you know?
I thought this was a fine little morning movie, but I did quibble a little at the end. There’s a subplot about a missing coin that’s in the Borrowers’ hands, and I’d have liked it if our one heroic Bean had done them a fair swap for some items of greater value to them – say two big 50p coins in return for the gold sovereign? Perhaps I’m just sensitive to it because our son is hitting the age where trading’s okay. He came home from school this week with an extra bag of somebody’s unwanted Valentine’s sweets in return for some fruit snacks and I’ve been worried for days that the other kid was as satisfied with the deal as he was. Two coins are always better than one when you’re not using them as government-backed legal tender, right?