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Film Review: Arrietty * * * *

For more than 25 years the Studio Ghibli has been turning out sumptuous and gorgeously crafted animated features, the most famous of which are Hayao Miyazaki's Ponyo, Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away.

The master had only a supervising role in this lavish animated adaptation of Mary Norton's fantasy novel The Borrowers, but his paw prints and lushly distinctive style are all over Arrietty.

When a sickly 12-year-old boy called Sho arrives at his great aunt's rambling old house in the Tokyo suburbs, he comes armed with stories from his mother, who grew up there, about tiny people who lived under the foundations. Sho is often confined to bed, and is shortly due to undergo a risky heart operation. But he finds a welcome distraction when he spots a 10cm-high girl darting through the bushes.

This is Arrietty, the spirited but not entirely obedient only child of doting parents Homini and Pod. While her father is gradually introducing her to the craft of 'borrowing' tiny amounts of human food and materials that has kept them hidden and alive, her mother is a jumpy, neurotic creature who'd rather Arrietty never go out.

When Arrietty is spotted by Cho and reluctantly begins communicating with him, her parents are all for fleeing instantly. But Arrietty is convinced that Cho is one of those rare humans who can be trusted, and her theory will soon be put to the test.

Not an awful lot happens in Arrietty, but it doesn't really matter all that much, because the real strength of Hiromasa Yonebayashi's film lies in its beautiful animated tableaux and extraordinary attention to detail. When Arrietty and her dad go out borrowing, they forge rough bridges of jutting nails and use tiny pieces of adhesive tape to shimmy up and down table legs and sideboards. A brilliant soundtrack augments these miniature adventures, and the English language voiceovers includes Mark Strong, Tom Holland and Saoirse Ronan, who does a fine job of voicing Arrietty.

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