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The Borrowers

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: The Borrowers

Starring: John Goodman, Jim Broadbent
Director: Pete Hewitt
Rated: PG
RunTime: 83 Minutes
Release Date: February 1998
Genres: Comedy, Family, Kids

*Also starring: Mark Williams, Hugh Laurie, Bradley Pierce, Flora Newbigin, Tom Felton, Raymond Pickard, Celia Imrie, Aden Gillett

Review by Steve Rhodes
3½ stars out of 4

A bottling plant can be a dangerous place if you're only a few inches tall. Stuck in a milk bottle on its way down the assembly line to be filled, you are naturally consumed with terror. And it doesn't help if you're a little boy who hates milk anyway.

For less enlightened readers, who've never read Mary Norton's novels, a word of explanation is in order. The world is divided in (human) beans, that's us, and Borrowers. Borrowers are actually further divided into innies and outies, much like bellybuttons. Innies are those Borrowers that live inside your walls and under your floorboards. Outies make their way in the more treacherous outside world. You've never seen them, of course, but when a sock seems to have disappeared from your drawer, it was probably a Borrower who took it.

THE BORROWERS tells the story of the Clock family -- father Pod (Jim Broadbent), mother Homily, (Celia Imrie), daughter Arietty (Flora Newbigin) and son Peagreen (Tom Felton) -- who live in the walls of the Lender family's house. A perfectly cast John Goodman plays an odious, real estate developer named Ocious P. Potter, who takes possession of the Lender family's house through nefarious means. To keep possession Potter has to find and destroy the Lender aunt's will that is hidden in the walls of their house. This pits the Borrowers and the Lender's son Pete (Bradley Pierce) against the evil Potter and a good-spirited exterminator named Jeff (Mark Williams), who calls himself "the pest's pest."

Among the film's many delights are Gemma Jackson's sets and Marie France's costumes, both worthy of Oscar consideration. The world as viewed from four inches high has never been more interesting and realistic, thanks to special effects that seem so natural.

Among the many little worlds created, the refrigerator is one of the best. What are those magnets on the front for? Why, to make climbing up easier. After Arietty and Peagreen scale the Lender's refrigerator, they use a Popsicle stick to pry open the door of the freezer, and, once inside, the Arctic-style landscape is amazing. Even better is when they fall down the shaft carrying the ice cubes and almost get caught when the Lenders push the ice button. Think of the horrors of having ice boulders being flung at your head.

The outside world looks like an English industrial town of the 1930s, but the sets have a Dickensian look. To further enrich the complicated time placement, Potter makes calls on his solid-gold cell phone. All of this is filmed by John Fenner and Trevor Brooker with a rust colored cinematography that gives the picture a dreamy, nostalgic look.

The screenplay by Gavin Scott and John Kamps never makes the mistake so common today in kids' movies of setting the tone too dark. This is an imaginative environment where the Borrowers creativity constantly saves the day.

The movie teaches many a good lesson along the way. The serious father, who like all of the Borrowers has a whimsically fun hairstyle, lectures his children on exactly what a Borrower is. "A Borrower is quiet, conscientious, and inconspicuous," he explains. "We don't steal; we borrow."

For those of you who liked the idea of tiny creatures living in walls battling a villain and an exterminator but hated MOUSE HUNT, THE BORROWERS is just picture for you.

The ending, straight out of a Brueghel painting, has a mass of Borrowers so sweet that it may bring tears of joy to your eyes.

"We're not vermin," the Borrower father tells us. "We're not creeps. And we're not pests. We're Borrowers." With the courage of a noble race, he explains that, "We may be small but heaven help anyone who thinks he might squish us."

THE BORROWERS runs a fast 1:23. It is rated PG for cartoonish violence and would be fine for kids four or five and up as well as adults with or without any kids.

My son Jeffrey, almost 9, highly recommends the movie. His favorite scenes are of the army of Borrowers and of the powered skate. His friend Steven, age 9, thought the movie was really funny. His favorite scenes were of the rocket-like skate and of the bad guy getting tied up. Steven's twin John, obviously also 9, thought it was a wonderful movie. He liked the way the tiny Borrowers were able to outsmart the beans.

Copyright 1998 Steve Rhodes

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