Rated PG - Running time: 1:23 - Released 2/13/98

Just a few months after the release of Mouse Hunt, we have another movie about a similar subject: small creatures living between the walls of an old house, being pursued by a ridiculous full-sized villain. In this screen adaptation of the classic book by Mary Norton, director Peter Hewitt has brought out the fun and adventure of the story admirably.

As the film opens, we meet Pete Lender (Bradley Pierce), a boy who lives with his parents in an old house that was owned by his now-deceased grandmother. When Pete and his parents leave to talk to a lawyer about the grandmother's will, we are introduced to the little family that lives in the walls. To the dismay of his nervous wife Homily (Celia Imire), Pod Clock (Jim Broadbent) is teaching his daughter Arrietty (Flora Newbigin) and son Peagreen (Tom Felton) the risky art of "borrowing": stealing small objects from the full-size occupants to use for their own purposes.

Following an enjoyable sequence with the Clock family swinging from dental floss and eating ice cream from the container in the freezer, the Lenders return home. They have learned from Ocious P. Potter (John Goodman) that their grandmother never left a will and therefore the house now belongs to the state. Feigning sympathy, the evil lawyer states, "Where there's no will, there's no way." We soon find, however, that Potter wants the house and he is actually planning to destroy the will which was hidden somewhere in it by the old lady.

In a movie meant for kids, the characters are supposed to be overblown, and so they are in The Borrowers. Goodman is the classic caricature of the selfish villain, who even has a moustache but loses it in an exterminator-related accident. The story of Potter discovering and chasing the borrowers around is great fun, and they are heroic in their attempts to retrieve the will and prove that the house belongs to their friendly host family. There is plenty of slapstick comedy, size-related jokes, and harrowing escapes for the tiny people.

There is a phenomenon prevalent in children's movies, though; something that only an adult would notice, but it seems sloppy and unnecessary nonetheless. The entire movie seems to be set in England in the mid-20th century, except for a few noticeable incongruities: the existence of things like plastics, cell phones, and refrigerators with ice dispensers in the door contrast with the fact that all the cars, clothes, and most other objects are 1940s vintage. And Potter and the Lenders are American, but all other characters are British. This can be noted in many kids' classics such as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Pete's Dragon, and Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory. Is this intentional, or are American actors just unwilling to play bit parts in children's movies?

It could be argued that this is a fantasy, and therefore is not meant to be confined to any time or place. But it seems like it could work just as well if everything matched up in one period or another. As I mentioned, a 5-year-old would never notice these things, and the movie is sufficiently fun if a little confusing to us picky old movie critics. So why don't I just pass the popcorn and get over it? ***½

Copyright 1998 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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