The Borrowers

(Peter Hewitt, UK, 1997)


I suspect that The Borrowers (adapted from Mary Norton’s popular series of novels for children) was kept on the shelf for a while in Australia until the fond memory of Mouse Hunt (1997) faded a little from young minds. While there is much in common between the two films, there is no doubt that Mousehunt is the funnier, sharper, more imaginatively conceived and realised project.

The borrowers are the tiny members of the Clock family, living in secret compartments and passageways of a house belonging to normal-size folk. Whenever the coast is clear, Pod (Jim Broadbent) leads his son Peagreen (Tom Felton) and daughter Arrietty (Flora Newbigin) on thrilling expeditions to secure food.

This canny family has calculated for every contingency except the onward march of urban development. The lives of both the Clocks and their host family, the Lenders, are brutally disrupted by the evil plans of lawyer Ocious (John Goodman) – an unpleasant cad who shares his surname Potter with the arch, money-grubbing villain of Frank Capra‘s It’s a Wonderful Life (1946).

The best and most spirited part of this film begins when Ocious – accompanied by a reluctant pest exterminator – starts tearing up the near-empty house in search of the little creatures who torment him. Director Peter Hewitt does not go to the comic-book extremes of Mouse Hunt‘s visual and musical style, but at least he has Goodman on hand to provide a Coen brothers touch of grotesque exaggeration.

This is a deliberately laid-back, old-fashioned film that trades on a certain, harmless brand of English eccentricity. Its idea of wild teenage fun is to have a boy and girl zoom down the inside of a pipe in a car made from various ‘borrowed’ scraps. Poignancy is added to such merriment when the Clocks – believing they are the only people of their kind in the world – finally encounter their brethren.

As kids’ movies go, The Borrowers is a reasonably entertaining piece of whimsy.

© Adrian Martin April 1998

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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