Dr. Seuss generated many moralistic turns of phrase in his illustrious career, none of which may be as affecting as Horton the elephant's "A person's a person, no matter how small." Such is the embedded theme of another classic work of children's literature, Mary Norton's The Borrowers, a tale of extremely small people living under the floorboards of a home of normal human beings.
Studio Ghibli, the Japanese animation studio, released a film adaptation in 2010, which became the highest-grossing film in Japan that year. Disney is finally distributing the production, dubbed The Secret World of Arrietty (rated G), in American theaters, and it generally impresses as a beautifully drawn and thought-provoking film.
Twelve-year-old Shawn (David Henrie) travels to stay with his Aunt Jessica (Gracle Poletti) as he prepares to undergo heart surgery. Shortly after his arrival, he spots the bold, inquisitive Arrietty (Bridgit Mendler), a tiny 14-year-old person living underneath Aunt Jessica's home with her father Pod (Will Arnett) and mother Homily (Amy Poehler). Taught that human beings are dangerous, Arrietty is initially frightened when Shawn sees her, but her curiosity leads her into a mutually rewarding friendship with him. She learns that not all human beings are a threat, and Shawn finds the strength and courage in Arrietty he needs to overcome his own fears.
Despite the shared humanity Shawn and Arrietty discover in each other, Arrietty's people appear to live by different ethical rules. Calling themselves "borrowers" because they sneak around Aunt Jessica's home at night and abscond with various household goods, they take pains to distinguish between taking items that are needed ("borrowing") versus taking items that are not needed (thievery). As a character from another Disney production once said, "When you borrow something and don't tell nobody, they call that stealing."
Allowances may be made for the fantastical nature of the story, but if "borrowers" are only miniature versions of regular human beings, with emotions and intellects as fully developed as their larger counterparts, surely one would expect a similar capacity for conscientious thought and action.