Warner Bros. // 2008 // 100 Minutes // Rated G
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // November 6th, 2008
Did the hobo really do it?
"We're not going to have to start selling eggs, are we?"
Kit Kittredge (Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine) is a friendly young girl enjoying life in the year 1934. Kit's family is part of a fairly wealthy social circle, but times are starting to get very hard. Kit's father (Chris O'Donnell, Scent of a Woman) has lost his job, and is forced to go to Chicago to seek work. In the meantime, Kit and her mother (Julia Ormond, First Knight) are forced to take in boarders in order to pay the mortgage. Very quickly, the Kittredge household becomes filled with a variety of eccentric figures, including a clever magician (Stanley Tucci, The Terminal), a loopy dancer (Jane Krakowski, 30 Rock) and a mobile librarian (Joan Cusack, Working Girl).
Just as Kit is getting used to her new situation, something mysterious starts happening. Robberies are beginning to take place in Kit's home town, and many are blaming members of the hobo community. In fact, one of the key suspects is a young man named Will (Max Thieriot, The Pacifier), a hobo who has been doing work for the Kittredge family in exchange for a little money and food. However, Kit is convinced of Will's innocence, and determines to solve the mystery. By doing so, she might be able to kill two birds with one stone: clearing Will of all charges, and possibly getting the exciting news story that will finally make her the famous newspaper reporter she has always dreamed of being!
I am the oldest of nine children. Yes, it is true. Five of my younger siblings are girls. Over the years, all of my sisters have become enamored at some point with American Girl Dolls. These dolls are well-crafted and overpriced, and each one represents a different portion of American history. For instance, Molly is a girl living during World War II, while Addy is a young African-American girl being forced to work as a slave during the civil war. Each character has her own set of books, which chronicle the many adventures of these likable characters while also offering gentle history lessons.
Recently, the dolls have inspired several made-for-television feature films, none of which have been seen by me (one of my sisters informs me that they are wonderful, but of course she is completely in the tank for all things American Girl). However, I had heard a few rather positive things from honest-to-goodness film critics such as Roger Ebert and Rex Reed about Kit Kittredge: An American Girl, a film that received a limited theatrical release. Now that I've seen the film, I am not ashamed to say that there are now six American Girl fans in the Douglas family. This is a very fine piece of family-friendly entertainment.
If you think that Kit Kittredge will resemble Bratz or one of those straight-to-DVD Barbie films in any way, you are completely wrong. The film is a gentle and thoughtful little period piece that somewhat resembles an exceptionally good Nancy Drew story. Ironically, this film does the whole Nancy Drew thing even better than the Nancy Drew theatrical film did. It is one thing for a film to be successful as a kid-friendly whodunit, but it quite another for that film to provide honest social commentary that does not attempt to insult the insight or intelligence of young viewers.
It's quite remarkable to note just how successfully Kit Kittredge works. It handles issues such as the great depression, bigotry, poverty, and crime very carefully, helping children understand the gravity of such things without losing a sense of positive optimism and encouragement. There are no false promises of being able to accomplish anything if you only follow your heart. However, the film does suggest that there is a way to make the best out of almost any situation, no matter how dire things may seem. I feel that this message is considerably more helpful the usual friendly message offered up in family entertainment these days. When I see movies that promise children endless success as a reward for being a good person, I always cringe just a little. There are plenty of great kids out there who are stuck in rough situations, and nothing short of a miracle is going to change that. Finally, here is a film that offers them something encouraging and optimistic. Also very positive: the film makes a valiant attempt to criticize the idea of social class, which still exists to a lesser degree in America today.
Parents may find themselves enjoying Kit Kittredge as much as their young ones. This is largely due to the expert performances across the board. The film has been blessed with a fine cast, who all are in sharp form here. This is really the first film that young Abigail Breslin has been asked to carry large portions of on her own, and she does so wonderfully here. With all due respect to her excellent turn in Little Miss Sunshine, I think this is Breslin's most accomplished performance. Julia Ormond is good as the mother, and the film benefits from an array of colorful characters played by old pros like Stanley Tucci, Jane Krakowski, Joan Cusack, and others. Chris O'Donnell doesn't have much screen time as Kit's father, but he does have a couple of nice scenes.
The hi-def transfer is a solid, spotlighting the very pleasing visuals. The early 1930s might have been a depressing time, but I'm a sucker for the look and feel of the era, which is captured quite beautifully here. I really enjoyed the set design of the old newspaper office, which has a nice Howard Hawks vibe. Colors are bright and well-balanced, and facial detail is reasonably strong. Sound is just fine, with a nice score by Joseph Vitarelli and a variety of period pieces setting the tone nicely.
Sadly, the disc is very lacking in terms of supplements. Aside from that ever-popular and ever-pointless bonus digital copy of the film, we only get a handful of trailers for other "American Girl" films. Bummer. I would have really been interested in hearing an audio commentary on this one.
Lack of special features aside, this is a solid hi-def transfer of a lovely little film. It may be called Kit Kittredge: An American Girl, but I honestly believe that viewers of all ages and genders will enjoy it. Highly recommended for families.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p Widescreen)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated G
* Digital Copy