The best children’s fables operate on the same wavelength as a kids’ imaginations, with such grown-up considerations as consequence and logic taking a backseat to magic, possibility, and wonder—plus, of course, love, which children need in such great abundance that they often invent imaginary providers. Consider the preceding to be context for remarks about The Borrowers, a made-for-TV movie that represents the first filmed adaptation of a beloved novel by Mary Norton, who also wrote the novel that became Disney’s Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Starring Eddie Albert of Green Acres fame as the patriarch of a magical family, The Borrowers is far from perfect. Two key performances by juvenile actors are vapid, the special effects are old-fashioned and rickety, and the movie includes unnecessary montages set to fruity ballads. Nonetheless, the best parts of The Borrowers are so charming—and the underlying message about imagination and understanding is so worthwhile—that it’s easy to forgive the picture its faults.
Set in Victorian England, The Borrowers takes place almost entirely in a stately mansion. The lady of the house is Sophy (Dame Judith Anderson), a bedridden aristocrat who spends her days self-medicating with wine. Attending to Sophy’s needs are a crotchety groundskeeper (Barnard Hughes) and a stern housekeeper (Beatrice Straight). Living beneath their feet is the miniscule Clock family: Pod (Albert); his wife, Homily (Tammy Grimes); and their daughter, Arrietty (Karen Pearson). The last in a long line of teeny-tiny “borrowers,” they get by on household items that Pod purloins during expeditions into the house. The only full-sized human aware of the Clock family’s existence is Sophy, but she’s convinced the little people are delusions brought on by her drunkenness. Accordingly, everything’s copacetic until Sophy becomes the temporary guardian of a preteen boy (Dennis Larson). Once the Boy (that’s his character name) spots Pod stealing a miniature cup and saucer from a dollhouse, the Boy sets in motion events that could spell doom for the “borrowers.” However, once the Boy befriends Arrietty, he becomes the Clock family’s champion instead of the family’s tormentor.
Compensating for the flatness of the performances by Larson and Pearson, Albert is endearing, Anderson is amusing, and Grimes is warm, while Hughes and Straight provide gentle villainy. Further, Jay Presson Allen’s teleplay follows a delightful path as the Clock family wriggles free of trouble, and the values that Pod represents—as compared to the fearfulness and small-mindedness of the story’s normal-sized grown-ups—comprise a lovely message for young viewers. Therefore, it’s no surprise The Borrowers won an Emmy for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Children’s Programming. Fitting the proportions of its protagonist, The Borrowers is a small gem.
The Borrowers: GROOVY