Combustible Celluloid
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With: Abigail Breslin, Julia Ormond, Chris O'Donnell, Stanley Tucci, Jane Krakowski, Glenne Hedley, Joan Cusack, Max Thieriot, Willow Smith, Zach Mills, Madison Davenport, Wallace Shawn
Written by: Ann Peacock, based on stories by Valerie Tripp
Directed by: Patricia Rozema
MPAA Rating: G
Running Time: 101
Date: 06/20/2008

Kit Kittredge: An American Girl (2008)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Kit Wit

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

As the father of a two year-old boy, I know Elmo, Spider-Man and Spongebob but I had never heard of the "American Girl" dolls. Apparently, they have quite a franchise going; they have books and DVDs and accessories. Each girl has a trademarked name and her own story, torn from the pages of history. They have frontier girls, American Indian girls, escaped slave girls, hippie girls, revolutionary girls and World War II girls. Kit Kittredge is the Depression-Era girl. This sounds like a terrible idea for a movie, partly condescending, educational and grim. But Canadian director Patricia Rozema, who made the lightest of all the Jane Austen movies, Mansfield Park (1999), manages a careful balance of entertainment and realism. It could be a Shirley Temple movie for our current hard times.

The other key to the movie's success is our adorable little Oscar nominee Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine) as ten year-old Kit, who announces that she wants to be a reporter, even before she realizes that there's a Depression on. The film is honest, yet sensitive, about how anyone, even those living in nice houses, can suddenly lose everything. The upper crust turn up their noses at those forced to sell eggs, wear feed sacks or fix fences in exchange for food, but Kit's curiosity and heart allow her to make the best of it, even when her father (Chris O'Donnell) is forced to leave Cincinnati to look for a job and her mother (Julia Ormond) is forced to take in boarders.

This ragtag collection (Stanley Tucci, Jane Krakowski, Glenne Hedley and a typically hilarious Joan Cusack) as well as a couple of "hobo" helpers (Max Thieriot and Willow Smith) lead up to the big mystery: a stolen box of cash, inevitably blamed on the polite "hobos." Rozema can't resist having fun playing dress-up and showing off with the period costumes, but she juxtaposes the scenes of comfort with the eager details of the hobo culture, including their "jungle" and their system of written communication. The laughable ending cheats a bit, with everyone except Santa Claus turning up for Thanksgiving dinner, but it also leaves the bigger picture wide open. It's depressing, but also hopeful in a stubborn, American kind of way.

DVD Details: The DVD from New Line Cinema comes with an "American Girl" trailer gallery and a digital copy of the film for your computer. It includes both the widescreen and "full-screen" versions of the film, depending on your family's tastes. It also has special DVD-Rom features that I was unable to access on my Mac. (I'm not sure if the digital copy works on Macs or not; I didn't try it.){subid}&url=hitlist.asp?searchfield=marvel
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