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Festivale online magazine, May-June, 1998
The Borrowers film review
The Borrowers

Various people over the years have addressed the vexed question of what happens to those little household items that go missing: pens, socks, keys and so on. Douglas Adams suggested wormholes in space, The Twilight Zone depicted men in blue who built the world as a set, minute by minute, and sometimes forgot some of the props. Now we have The Borrowers.

John Goodman in The Borrowers
John Goodman in The Borrowers

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The Borrowers are little people who live under the floorboards and in the walls, in all the hidden places of the house. They survive by borrowing everyday household items and putting them to good use: a teaspoon becomes a shovel, thimbles become shoes, a retractable tape measure becomes a convenient elevator. They're harmless folk and have two main rules: to never be seen, and to never borrow more than needed.

The film focuses on one particular family of Borrowers, perhaps the last in the world, who live in an old home occupied by the Lender family (Borrowers and Lenders, geddit?). Their 10 year old son Peter (Bradley Pierce) suspects their existence and sets traps for them, finally coming face to face with the daughter, Arrietty Clock (Flora Newbigin). At the same time, the villainous lawyer Ocious Potter (John Goodman) embarks on a scheme to oust the Lenders, demolish the house and build a hideous set of apartments on the site. The Borrowers and Lenders become allies in a fast-moving, action-packed attempt to foil Potter and save their common home.

The "little people in a big world" genre has certainly come a long way since Honey I Shrunk the Kids. In the older "little people" movies, the interaction between actors and specially-built oversize props was a point of interest in itself. In this movie, the effects are so seamless that the story and personalities take centre stage. Not that the big/little sequences are boring; they're full of energy and innovation. Freed from technical limitations, the plot barrels along. The creaky, over-furnished old house is used to its full potential, providing all sorts of hidey-holes and climbing places for the Borrowers to use. Things get even more interesting once the little people are out in the big wide world.

A fascinating part of this film is its design. For a start, there's a mix of American and British actors, and a variety of accents between them. There's a dislocation of time as well as space: you start off thinking the film is set in the 1950s, but then you realise it's a strange future vision of the 1950s. A huge "modern" city, but all red brick and brass. The clincher is Potter's lovely brass-plated mobile phone. British comedian Hugh Laurie appears too as a policeman, but in a decidedly French gendarme outfit. Production Designer Gemma Jackson has put a lot of thought into the look of this movie, something which adds an intriguing extra layer for the eye to observe.

The Borrowers is a delightful movie which I'd recommend for both younger and older viewers: a light-hearted film made with a lot of care and a sense of fun.

Click here to buy films from one of the online stores in Festivale's on-line shopping mallTim Richards

See also: Ali's review for more pictures and cast and crew credits
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Festivale Online Magazine
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ISSN 1328-8008
Published in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
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: Published in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia : copyright © Festivale 1998 All rights reserved
Filed: 3-March-1998 : Last updated: 18-Mar-1998 : Last tested: 3-Jul-2014: Last Compiled: 3-Jul-2014
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