February 13, 1998 in Seven

We’ve Seen This Plot Before, But ‘Borrowers’ Has Charm

Joe Baltake Sacramento Bee
 

It would be easier to get excited about Peter Hewitt’s “The Borrowers,” an extremely well-made family film, if about 10 other movies didn’t exist.

And it especially doesn’t help that Gore Verbinski’s recent “Mouse Hunt” is still holed up in some theaters.

Similar to “Mouse Hunt” in both plot and gothic ambience, Hewitt’s film is another exercise about doing whatever one can, short of murder, to keep a nasty intruder (or intruders) out of one’s home.

In “Mouse Hunt,” the unlikely hero was a little mouse; here, the defenders of home and hearth are a family of 4-inch people called The Borrowers.

Hewitt’s movie feels both vaguely American and vaguely British, vaguely contemporary and vaguely dated. Is it set in the 1950s or the ‘90s? And while it’s clearly set somewhere in England, why are some of the characters clearly British and others clearly American?

John Goodman plays the resident villain, Ocious P. Potter, a disreputable attorney who plans to bilk a late woman’s heirs out of the home she left them.

It’s an old, rather dingy place, but it’s sitting on some prime land that Potter feels could be put to better, more profitable use.

Anyway, he has no trouble evicting the cute Lender family, but Potter finds that it isn’t all that easy to get rid of the little people living under the floorboards of the house. Their names are the Clocks and they’ve been borrowing from the Lenders. Get it?

It’s a cozy setup that’s threatened when Potter even resorts to bringing in an exterminator, again just like in “Mouse Hunt,” to get rid of them. Like little bugs, the Clocks are adaptable - and, despite their size, they also have big ears. When Peagreen and Arrietty get wind of Potter’s greedy plans, they feel impelled to inform the one human who has shown them any kindness - Pete. The movie is about the resilience of all things small.

Both “Mouse Hunt” and this film also owe something to Tim Burton and Terry Gilliam in terms of their strange, sometimes gross sense of humor. “The Borrowers,” in particular, sports jokes that are a weird combination of the quaint and the grotesque.

It’s an old-fashioned film with a hip edge to it and, despite its familiarity, pretty wonderful. It may have been spawned by the “Home Alone” flicks, but it has none of the mean-spiritedness of that series. And one more thing: “The Borrowers” has no trouble conjuring the kind of magic that seems to evade so many other modern movie fantasies. What it does seems effortless.

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story:

“THE BORROWERS”

Location: East Sprague, North Division, Showboat

Credits: Directed by Peter Hewitt, starring John Goodman, Jim Broadbent, Mark Williams, Hugh Lurie, Bradley Pierce, Celia Imire, Flora Newbigin, Doon Mackichan, Aden Gillet, Raymond Pickard, Tom Felton

Running time: 1:26

Rating: PG

This sidebar appeared with the story: “THE BORROWERS” Location: East Sprague, North Division, Showboat Credits: Directed by Peter Hewitt, starring John Goodman, Jim Broadbent, Mark Williams, Hugh Lurie, Bradley Pierce, Celia Imire, Flora Newbigin, Doon Mackichan, Aden Gillet, Raymond Pickard, Tom Felton Running time: 1:26 Rating: PG


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