I read Mary Norton’s The Borrowers in elementary school, and remember it just well enough to note that it and The Secret World of Arietty really don’t have that much in common; a few names, a general concept, and maybe a plot element or too. Hayao Miyazaki, who’s done this before, of course, in adapting the story has made it a very Japanese one-someone else might have done the actual directing, but this is still very much his movie. The Japanization isn’t entirely a good thing; one can see quite a little bit of anime stereotyping in his version of the characters, though to be fair, I’m not sure how much of that might also be blamable on the dubbing, which certainly wasn’t the best. But Miyazaki also brought out the story’s sad elements very strongly, and most of the changes made it sadder too, especially since the tongue-in-cheek framing narrator from Norton’s book is gone without a trace; now the boy’s telling the story himself. At least one scene will stubbornly pull out your heartstrings enough that in spite of the cliche, you will still want to cry.
The better parts of the movie, thankfully, were untouched by the Americanization. That would be the visuals: the naturalistic shots and the recreation of the world of the Borrowers, with the imaginative use of human odds and ends in the Clock family home and especially the equipment with which Pod and Arietty go out borrowing, the earlier, slower part of the film the highlight is easily their expedition through the kitchen and into the boy’s bedroom, as riveting as any exploration sequence. The music as well; they wisely kept all of Cécile Corbel’s Japanese music soundtrack, translating lyrics where needed.