Kit Kittredge: An American Girl
Movies can be based on a lot of different sources. Most obviously, there are works of literature including novels and plays. Then there are comic books and even a song title. You might think that a line of dolls would not make for a compelling movie but after watching ‘Kit Kittredge: An American Girl’ I can safely say that this has to be considered reasonable source material. That is not to say that I am looking forward to a Barbie flick but this doll is a bit special. The kit is one of the line of American Girl dolls started by Pleasant Rowland in 1986. To date millions of the dolls and books of their adventure have been sold. Each of the dolls represents a girl from a specific period of American history.
Kit, for example, is the Great Depression doll. This film is special for a family-oriented movie. It is delightful for the children and not only will the adults not run out of the room when it is on they will be able to be fully entertained by it. As this consideration of this film is being written the world is facing a huge financial crisis. Global markets are plummeting. It might be a good idea to sit and watch this film with your children to give them a little hope. While the kids don’t know the details of what is going on they certainly get a feeling that something is wrong from their parents. Actually, this is something that you want to invite the grandparents over to watch with you. They are the last of the generation that remembers the Great Depression and this is a film that will unite the family in a hopeful and uplifting way. Many may have discounted this film as just another in a long line of forced product placement. While it is pretty certain that sales of these dolls will increase this is a film that can stand on its own merits. The film is released to both DVD and Blu-ray by New Line Cinema. Hopefully this film will launch a successful franchise. I looked into the other stories behind these period oriented dolls and they all look like winners. This is something rare and wonderful, a family film that everyone in the family will love.
Several of the American Girl doll’s stories have already been shown as made for television movies. Most of the stories were written by Valerie Tripp, who has the format down pat. The adaptation for the big screen was made by Ann Peacock. Ms Peacock has some successful screenplays too her name including work on ‘The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ and ‘Nights in Rodanthe. In this piece she has captured this terrible time in our history through the eyes of a child. We see the effects of the depression, but the causes and global impact is not part of this vantage point. This serves to personalize the story with great effect.
Most people are poor, out of work, and the homeless. It hits home to Kit (Abigail Breslin) when her father, Jack (Chris O'Donnell) loses his business and the family home is on the verge of foreclosure. Jack and Kit’s mother Margaret (Julia Ormond) put up a brave face for the child but she is smart enough to know what is going on. The only thing that holds Kit together is her dream of becoming a newspaper reporter. This is the heart of this story. While the adults are busy doing what they have to do just to survive a child still has hopes and dreams for her future. This story is not one that depends on jump scenes that provide a minute or two of drama. It is mostly a gentle, flowing story that glides along. The point here is to provide a slice of life that a girl of that period would experience. It shows that there drama and humor in regular life. Unlike most movies aimed at children the adults in this one are not one-dimensional characters. They are as fully fleshed out as the kids.
The film was directed by Patricia Rozema. Mostly she has worked on feminist dramas, but she takes on this work with flair. The film has no specific point to make other than childlike optimism will win out. It has to be difficult for a director to work on a period piece but Rozema demonstrates how it should be done. You are pulled back in time to this vastly different era in our history. Some may say that the film is overly sweet. There is nothing wrong with that especially in a family movie. There are enough terrors waiting for our children on the horizon. Just let them be kids and enjoy a film like this without passing judgment on it being a nice movie.
The truly amazing thing about this film is the performances. When a new child starbursts on the scene it is only natural to think that he or she will be a one-hit-wonder. This film proves that Abigail Breslin has the talent to last a lifetime. She has such a command of her part that adult actors would be served well to take notes on her techniques. The young Miss Breslin can turn Kit into a little girl that is disarmingly charming. She is ambitious and determined to make herself into the best reporter possible. She has an old typewriter in her treehouse that she uses to write articles about what she sees in her life. Breslin is the kind of young actress that will make a mark in the world of cinema. Kit’s world is full of interesting characters. There is a magician, Mr. Berk (Stanley Tucci), Kit’s dance teacher, Miss Dooley (Jane Krakowski) and the local bookmobile driver Miss Bond (Joan Cusack). These are the adults that help to nurture Kit’s amazing curiosity. It was a blast from the past to see a bookmobile again; I spent many an hour in one as a kid.
The main mystery that Kit and her pals have to solve is not one typically seen in aq kids flick; homelessness. Kit crosses paths with a young hobo Will (Max Thieriot) and his little brother Countee (Willow Smith). They live in a Hooverville, a camp for families displaced from their homes by the economic woes of the nation. Lately, the hobos have been the victims of physical attacks endangering the entire small community. Kit writes an article and tries to sell it to Mr. Gibson (Wallace Shawn), the newspaper editor, but he won’t consider it. So, Kit sets out to get to the bottom of the attacks herself. Along the way, Kit and her family try to find ways to make ends meet including raising chickens so Kit can sell the eggs. This is a movie that you should make your kids put down their video games, shut off their high def TVs and watch.
New Line did a great job of bringing this film to DVD and Blu-ray. They have both the full screen and widescreen versions on the same disc. Do yourself a favor, though, and get your kids used to watch a movie in the original aspect ratio. You might as well teach them young. For once there is a film that any all can enjoy. Just don’t forget to invite the grandparents over for some after the movie commentary on the times.
Posted 10/14/08 Posted 01/13/2020