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Film / The Borrowers (1997)

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The Borrowers is a 1997 comedy/fantasy film directed by Peter Hewitt, loosely based on the children's book of the same name by Mary Norton. It stars John Goodman as Ocious P. Potter (the Borrowers' main human adversary) and Jim Broadbent as Pod Clock and also features Tom Felton in his film debut as Peagreen Clock.

The four-inch-tall Clock family secretly shares a house with the normal-sized Lender family, "borrowing" such items as thread, safety pins, batteries and scraps of food. However, their peaceful co-existence is disturbed when evil lawyer Ocious P. Potter steals the will granting title to the house, which he plans to demolish in order to build apartments. The Lenders are forced to move, and the Clocks face the risk of being exposed to the normal-sized world.

The film takes a far more urban setup than the book, overturns the idea that the Borrowers have a low population (the ending is rather like that of Toy Story), and in general is not as faithful to the books as the original movies were. It at least avoided being In Name Only by keeping the members of the Clock family more-or-less true to their book characterizations, although even there they recast Peagreen (a minor character in the books) as Arrietty's Annoying Younger Sibling. It also pretty much dropped the original plot in favor of one centering around Potter's devious plan to demolish the house where the Borrowers live.

This film has examples of:

  • All There in the Manual: The novelization by Sherwood Smith explains that the reason why the other Borrowers moved out of the Lenders' home was because of "Central Eating", in which a plumber investigated the house. And all on a Black Tuesday, mind you. It also mentions that Spiller grew up not knowing who his parents were and was raised by his Uncle Root who was killed by a cat that he kept as a pet.
  • Amoral Attorney: The villain of the movie, Mr. Potter.
  • Amusing Injuries: All over the place, mostly inflicted on Ocious P. Potter.
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Arrietty is given one named Peagreen.
  • Brick Joke: Peagreen hates milk.
  • Butt-Monkey/The Chew Toy: Ocious P. Potter, oh so very much. He receives a lot of Amusing Injuries over the course of the movie.
  • Canon Foreigner: The villains, Ocious P. Potter and Exterminator Jeff, were invented for the film. And while there's technically a character named Peagreen in the original books, the film's version of him is, for all intents and purposes, an entirely original character. In the books, Peagreen is actually a love interest for Arrietty, but the film recasts him as a bratty younger brother for her, thus making her an older sister rather than an only child.
  • Color Wash: Most of the film is filtered with an orange/yellowish tint, with the latter half of the film going towards normal colors. This effect is most likely used to evoke the strange atmosphere of the film
  • Cultural Translation: Fairly minimal. The human boy and the villain are both Americans, but everyone else is British.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Peagreen, as part of his Bratty Half-Pint shtick, gets in a few really biting comments.
  • The Determinator: Mr. Potter. And he goes through hell too.
  • Driven to Madness: By the end of the film, Potter has been through so much that he has lost his mind completely, babbling inanely about Borrowers and smiling as he is thrown into prison.
  • Eccentric Exterminator: Jeff is a milder case than usual, but employs his lazy old bloodhound Mr. Smelly, who's better at emitting odors than detecting them due to his diet of cheese. He also has no issue carrying on with his marching orders after learning that his quarry is not rodents but a family of tiny people.
  • Foil: Potter spends a good chunk of the film playing opposite the exterminator and the police officer, both of whom have a cheerful demeanor that annoys him to no end, on top of constantly trying his patience.
  • Gilligan Cut: Pod: "No! No! No! It's not going to happen." Cut to Pete carrying the Clock family out to a moving truck.
  • Humiliation Conga: Mr. Potter for the entirety of the movie.
  • I Take Offense to That Last One:
    Arrietty: Peagreen, try to understand, there won't be a "here" unless we get this will to Pete before that nasty, cheating, thieving, evil, greedy, vicious, ugly bean destroys our house.
    Potter: Ugly? Who are they calling ugly?
  • Irony: Mrs. Lender's aunt, Mary Alabaster, apparently believed that filing her will with a bank would result in said bank disposing of the will in order to foreclose on and repurpose the property out from underneath the Lenders, and hid it in the house for her relatives to find, entrusting her lawyer Ocious P. Potter with showing them how and where to find it (as well as providing them with enough money to certify the change of property). What she apparently didn't count on though, was her lawyer being a total snake with real estate ambitions who intended instead to do the very same thing she feared a corrupt bank would do.
  • Large Ham: John Goodman as Ocious P. Potter.
  • MacGuffin: A will which entitles the Lenders to the house and thus stands in the way of Potter's scheme to replace it with condos.
  • Meaningful Name: The last name of the human family who owns the house where the Clock family lives? The Lenders.
  • The Millstone: Peagreen's two main functions in the movie are to be sarcastic and to get into trouble so the others will need to rescue him.
  • Morally Bankrupt Banker: Potter is a lawyer, not a banker, but he is in the real estate business (much like that other Potter) and his scheme to acquire the Lenders' home and turn it into condos is very similar to how corrupt bankers in fiction are always conspiring to foreclose on people and repurpose their property
    • Ironically, this very well could be why Mrs. Lender's late aunt did not trust filing her will with a bank, and hid it in the house instead.
  • Named by the Adaptation: Pete Lender, the human boy who befriends the Clock family.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: In the film's climax, Potter might have managed to arrange the demolition of the Lender's house and get away with everything after beating Pete, Jeff, and the Clocks to City Hall. However, upon reaching the reception desk, he rudely demands directions to "Town Planning" and refuses to be polite to the clerk when she gives him several chances. In retaliation, she gives him a long list of confusing directions to follow and snarks at him to "walk quickly" when he asks for a shorter route. As Potter struggles to navigate the maze of City Hall with said directions, Pete, Jeff, and the Clocks arrive and the former asks the clerk for directions "Town Planning" as well, but does so politely. She subsequently tells him the shorter, simpler route: take the elevator to the top and walk straight ahead. This allows Pete and Jeff to get to the "Demolition" room ahead of Potter, remove the sign, place it over the supply room's, and trick Potter into going inside, where the Clocks and many other Borrowers lock him in and tie him up long enough for Pete and Jeff to bring Officer Steady back with them to bust him for his crimes.
  • Papa Wolf: Pod has his moments.
  • People of Hair Color: All Borrowers have red hair.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Exterminator Jeff is a rather nice, friendly man who's fascinated by the Borrowers and is only helping Potter because he's been hired as a pest exterminator. He eventually does a Heel–Face Turn.
  • Retro Universe: The film is set in an era in which Zeppelins from Another World, streets full of 1950s-styled cars, and cell phones all exist alongside each other.
  • Rock Bottom:
    Pod: She's in the freezer?
    Peagreen: Is that bad?
    Pod: I don't think it could get much worse.
    [The Lenders arrive back home.]
    Pod: It just got worse.
  • Safe Behind the Corner: Near the beginning of the film, Arrietty hides from Pete in this fashion. He only spots her when she has to sneak out again to retrieve her candle.
  • Saving the Orphanage: Potter attempts to swindle the Lender family out of their house (which the Borrowers also live in) so he can destroy it and build condos. The Borrowers have to steal the previous owner's will back from him.
  • Scavenged Punk: The film, as with all versions of this franchise, is an example. The live-action sets, especially the Borrower's house gives some very cool examples of this.
  • Setting Update: Well, to the extent that the movie is set in any real time period at all. Even so, the film's Retro Universe aesthetic seems to be leaning towards a vaguely mid-century look, which is later than The Edwardian Era in which the original books took place.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The exterminator's appearance is not only a tribute to Ghostbusters, but also to Arachnophobia, which featured John Goodman as an exterminator.
    • The villain, Mr. Potter, is apparently based on the same-named villain from It's a Wonderful Life, especially since the development he's planning to build is called "Pottersville".
    • The Indian figurine that Arrietty knocks over is identical to the one from the film version of The Indian in the Cupboard, which was released two years earlier.
  • This Is What the Building Will Look Like: Potter shows off a model of the apartment complex he intends to build in place of the Lenders' home.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Mr. Potter's starts early, but it never ends. By the end of the film, he seems to care about nothing except killing those Borrowers at any cost.
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: The film's setting contains elements of the US and the UK with the use of both American and British actors adding to the ambiguity of it all. And the cars are all old-fashioned to boot. If you look closely, you can see that cars are right-hand-drive, but everyone also drives on the right side of the road. Bonus points for the obviously-hand-painted skyline in the distance — all the skyscrapers have pointy roofs like houses. The set designers were apparently aiming for maximum quaintness. Maybe it takes place in the same fictional not-quite-England, not-quite-America country that Roald Dahl adaptations tend to be set in.
  • You Can't Miss It: Potter rudely asked a receptionist for directions to the demolition office, and she replied by giving him a lot of complicated instructions, ending with "walk quickly". Later on, Pete politely asked for the same thing and this time she said: "Take the elevator to the top and walk straight ahead - You can't miss it".


Video Example(s):


Discovering the Borrowers

Arrietty Clock is discovered by the human boy Pete Lender.

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