The Borrowers (1998)

Borrowers are the reason things tend to disappear. A race of pocket-sized people with wild red hair and big teeth, they live within the walls and beneath the floorboards of homes, borrowing things from humans (aka Beans). Borrowers have charming names like Dustbunny, Minty and Swag, and they are stealthy, clever and brave beyond their size. A box of dental floss and a cup hook, in the hands of a Borrower, is rapelling gear for a borrowing mission in the kitchen, a sugar spoon is a shovel, a birthday candle a torch. Refrigerator magnets can be scaled like a rocky cliff face.

Based on the novels by Mary Norton, *The Borrowers* is a clever, charming and entertaining film that, like so many other tales for little people, proves that size really doesn't matter. As directed by Peter Hewitt, with outstanding production design by Gemma Jackson, *The Borrowers* creates an abundant, visually seamless and wonderfully convincing world of big and small, old and new.

The Clock family, Pod, Homily, Arrietty and Peagreen, are all alone, the last of the Borrowers living in the Lender home. They are menaced by vacuum cleaners, but otherwise co-exist secretly and peacefully with the Lenders, although young Pete Lender (Bradley Pierce) is determined to find out why things are forever disappearing. When the two families are forced from their home by Ocious P. Potter (John Goodman), an evil real estate developer, Arrietty (Flora Newbigin) and Peagreen (Tom Felton) are separated from their parents. Suddenly home alone, they discover Potter's pernicious plan to purloin the old homestead, but Potter discovers them too. Aided by Exterminator Jeff (Mark Williams), who promises "death for every bug and every budget," Potter menaces the clever Borrower kinder while Pete, Pod (Jim Broadbent) and Homily (Celia Imrie) race to the rescue. In the wild chase that ensues, Arrietty will encounter a cute Borrower boy with a hot rod roller skate, Potter will be harassed by a helpful police officer (Hugh Laurie) and drenched in molten cheese, and little Peagreen will be bottled. Luckily for the Borrowers, Potter is the sort of evil villain who inclines toward protracted perils, allowing for hair-raising knick-of-time rescues by intrepid Bean boys and brave Borrowers.

The visual effects in *The Borrowers* are perfectly executed, calling attention not to themselves, but to the story and characters. The flow between the big world of Beans and the tiny world of Borrowers is so casual and ingenious that it achieves a perfect realism that is as delightful as the story itself. *The Borrowers* rewards vigilance, but doesn't beg for it: there are no 'Look at me, I'm really small' moments in the film, just a witty, absorbing naturalism in which a Cheerio is a meal unto itself and an inch of spaghetti is sliced up for dinner. Old and new cultural artifacts and old and new cultures blend together in *The Borrowers*: the Clocks and their unwitting, flawlessly polite accomplices are Brits, while the Lenders and their nemesis Potter are Americans; the Lender house, situated in a circa 1950s London, is a grandmotherly Victorian, full of dark corners where Borrowers can hide, where lace curtains filter shafts of golden light, decorative crown moldings conceal tiny, secret doorways, and an old coal stove squats next to a modern refrigerator complete with a shockingly dangerous ice dispenser.

With its wee heroes and oversized villain, *The Borrowers* slyly pokes a bit of fun at movies in which bigger is better -- the clever climax is both stirring and giddily funny, a fitting finale to a crafty, ingeniously entertaining little film.