BFS Video // 1998 // 184 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // May 9th, 2003
The next chapter in Louisa May Alcott's classic tale!
In 1868, Louisa May Alcott published a novel about the adventures of the March sisters -- Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy -- called Little Women. The book was extremely popular and spawned numerous film and television adaptations beginning with a 1917 silent and including George Cukor's 1933 production with Katharine Hepburn in the role of Jo, and a 1994 adaptation starring Winona Ryder.
Even before its leap to the big and small screens, Alcott produced a number of literary sequels, the most prominent of which was 1871's Little Men. The book chronicles the adventures and hardships of Jo, who's married into a German family and assists her teacher husband, Fritz Bhaer, in running the Plumfield School for boys in 19th century Massachusetts.
Using Louisa May Alcott's sequel as little more than a jumping-off point, the Canadian television series Little Men ran for two 13-episode seasons in 1998 and 1999. Departing at the outset from Alcott's novel, the television series kicks off with Jo's husband Fritz dead and buried, and Plumfield in danger of disintegrating as parents pull their sons out of the school.
This two-disc set features the first four 45-minute episodes of the television series:
Changes -- Jo (Michelle Rene Thomas, Coneheads) scrambles to fill Plumfield's vacant teacher and groundskeeper slots. In order to broaden the school's pool of potential students (and appeal more to modern television audiences, I'm sure), she goes co-ed, taking on a tomboy named Nan who recently lost her mother. Meanwhile, merchant marine Nick Riley accepts temporary work as the school's groundskeeper until his ship sets sail.
Quarantine -- It's obvious trouble is brewing when a boy who's not a series regular starts coughing and looking green about the gills. As a virulent strain of the measles spreads among the students, the town doctor puts Plumfield under quarantine. When Jo is stricken and the guards posted outside the school to enforce the quarantine refuse to let Nick go to town to get medicine, he and one of the boys hatch a plan to sneak off the school grounds.
Thanksgiving -- As the holiday approaches, Nick prepares to ship out and Jo's sister Amy, brother-in-law Teddy, and niece Bess visit Plumfield. Jo and Teddy decide it would be good for the prissy Bess to become the school's second female student, but can she learn to get along with Nan? Meanwhile, Nick finds leaving Plumfield more difficult than he'd anticipated.
Tough Crimes -- A young highwayman is on the loose, robbing travelers on the roads around Plumfield. Meanwhile, Jo allows a stodgy, old-fashioned teacher a two-week trial to see if he's fit to come on as the progressive school's permanent instructor. The highwayman, it turns out, is an old friend of one of the boys at the school. When he asks to stay on at the school, doing odd jobs for bed and board until he gets his feet under him, Nick has doubts about the boy's intentions.
Carl Binder was the executive producer as well as one of the writers on Little Men. He filled the same dual role on the American television series Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, starring Jane Seymore. If you're familiar with the tone and texture of Dr. Quinn -- modern morality plays tossed into the milieu of a cleaned-up 19th-century, peopled with characters of a decidedly late-20th century worldview -- then you'll have a pretty good idea what to expect from Little Men. The show's family-friendly emphasis on liberal progressive education honors the spirit of Alcott's novel even if it doesn't adhere to the letter (most notably in its replacement of Fritz Bhaer -- who isn't exactly a young hunk -- with Nick Riley as the male lead, providing a Joe Lando-type as in Dr. Quinn and allowing Little Men to better adhere to that winning formula).
Little Men is decent, innocuous family entertainment, focusing on the sort of baseline moral instruction every small child needs to have drilled into him (the Tough Crimes episode's theme is the tried and true "don't judge a book by its cover"). Its turns of plot are the sort any adult will see coming from a mile away, but will be fresh and engaging for kids. The quality of acting runs from wooden to competent. Michelle Rene Thomas anchors the show as Jo, but is relegated to spending most of the time furrowing her brow in maternal concern; from time to time she gets to bust out in full-blown weeping. The Canadian cast of children vary in quality (and it's sort of humorous hearing kids who are supposed to be from Massachusetts saying "aboot" instead of "about"), but each fills a clearly-defined niche in the world of the school (clown, bully, cool guy, timid guy, et cetera), allowing kids to identify with whomever they most closely resemble.
In terms of DVD presentation, BFS Video gives us the show in its original full screen. Colors are vibrant and black levels solid. Unfortunately, there are regular instances of digital artifacts, fine-line detail shimmers, and isolated shots display significant grain. Still, its overall quality is at least as good as broadcast television, if not slightly better. Sound is a very clean but not spectacular stereo. There are no subtitles.
Extras include selective cast profiles as well as a profile and bibliography for Louisa May Alcott. The complete novel, Little Men, is also available to those with DVD-ROM.
Little Men is formulaic to say the least, but its safe and wholesome family entertainment for those so inclined.
Review content copyright © 2003 Dan Mancini; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: BFS Video
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 184 Minutes
Release Year: 1998
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* DVD-ROM -- The Complete Novel: Little Men by Louisa May Alcott
* Cast Profiles
* Louisa May Alcott Profile and Bibliography