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» Friday, July 11, 2008Fun for Everyone
Remember family movies? Walt Disney studios used to make most of 'emSummer Magic, In Search of the Castaways, Pollyanna, Toby Tyler, Nikki: Wild Dog of the North, Big Redbut they came out of other studios, too: Gypsy Colt, Bristle Face, Goodbye My Lady, Flipper, My Side of the Mountain, The Railway Children, Journey to the Center of the Earth. These were films everyone could enjoy, from Grandma to the five-year-old. There might be a little romance for the adults, a little slapstick for the kids, adventure for everyone, an occasional saccharin, but always heartwarming ending. Nothing popped, whizzed, or exploded; nobody swore or made bathroom jokes. These were real folks. They might resemble your cousins, the kids down the street, the stories grandma told you about her childhood on the farm or in the tenements.
Believe it or not, there is a movie out there right now that is just like those films. I saw it today, and I was surprised, happy and even a little astonished. It's Kit Kittredge: An American Girl, based on the series of books.
It's 1934, in Cincinnati, Ohio, where the Kittredge family is increasingly feeling the pinch of the Depression. Older son Charlie is already away, serving in a CCC camp rather than going to college. Left at home with her parents is 10-year-old Kit (really Margaret Mildred). The Kittredges are just managing when the bank repossesses Mr. Kittredge's car dealership. Mrs. Kittredge opens the house for boarders and Mr. Kittredge boards a train for Chicago to find work. At the same time, the Kittredges help out a pair of wandering young hobos, teenage Will, a refugee from Texas, and Countee, a young African-American boy whom Will met on the road (Countee's father has died and Will promised he would care of Countee). But the atmosphere in town threatens the hobo jungle nearby where Will and Countee live: a series of robberies has happened all over Ohio, supposedly done by hoboes, and suspicion dogs all those who live there.
The story is a combination of several of the series books and short stories, plus some things created solely for the movie, including several of the boarders at the Kittredges, and although the story is not rapid-paced, it progresses at a good clip and the cast is excellent. Abigail Breslin is Kit, from her blonde bob down to her Mary Janes, and Zach Mills and Madison Davenport, as boarder Stirling Howard and Kit's best friend Ruthie Smithens, respectively, are also picture- and character-perfect for their parts, and Mills, especially, makes you hurt for the little boy who is afraid he will never see his father again. Appearing in two very appealing supporting roles are Colin Mochrie as Mr. Pennington, a down-and-out stockbroker living in the hobo jungle, and Wallace Shawn (yes, good ol' Vizzini from Princess Bride) as Mr. Gibson, the editor of the newspaper that Kit is desperately trying to sell her stories to.
I have to admit I was very slightly disappointed when a slapstick element showed up during the climax of the filmapparently you can't show kids in any sort of serious jeopardy anymorebut this was my only quibble with this film. A literate script, a great cast, picture-perfect portrait of the era, believable children and adults going through good times and bad, heartbreak and happiness, and a happy ending that is at once sweet but realistic (everything does not get solved). And not one fart or peeing joke! That last may be the best news of all.
(For heaven's sake, now that we have one moviecan we have more?)