Don't even think of picturing Judge Kristin Munson in a tutu.
"We three Fossils vow to try to put our name in the history books because it's uniquely ours, and ours alone, and no one can say it's because of our grandfathers."
Last year the BBC aired the family drama Ballet Shoes as part of its Christmas lineup, and this adaptation of Noel Streatfeild's classic book is chicken soup for the kid lit lover's soul.
Facts of the Case
Orphans rescued from around the world by an archeologist and raised by his doting niece in a house full of dinosaur bones, Pauline, Petrova, and Posy Fossil are the least likely little girls you'll ever encounter in 1930s London. With their benefactor missing and his money running out, their guardian, Sylvia (Emilia Fox, The Pianist), opens the family home to an eclectic collection of borders, and the girls take to the stage to keep their makeshift family out of the poor house. Even though it's hard work, the tweens want nothing more than to fulfill their dreams as a dancer, an actress, and a pilot and to see their names in the history books.
Ballet Shoes is cut from the same cloth as A Little Princess, where plucky young heroines are rescued at the last minute by improbable coincidences, except the orphans here are less sugar and more spice
The movie dodges a saccharine bullet by playing up the '30s setting and passing off those incredibly lucky twists of fate as Hollywood homage, complete with a Busby Berkeley dance routine. The adaptation indulges in the predictable plot of the starlet plucked from the chorus and a character developing an ominous cough, and there's never any doubt that by movie's end everything will be wrapped with a tidy bow—it is a Christmas special, after all—but the script updates Streatfeild's book just enough to keep the story fresh and the grown-ups interested. There's some added romance and an implication that a set of female borders are more than "just friends," as well as a period-appropriate message of girl power.
The three girls don't take to the stage because of the "music within" or an LSD-tainted water supply, or whatever the heck it is that makes the teenagers in American TV movies launch into Broadway musical numbers; they trod the boards to keep their heads above the poverty line. "The world isn't kind to girls who can't support themselves," Sylvia says.
None of the Fossil clan is a perfect, perky moppet, and the girls easily fall victim to the pitfalls of fame. Pauline (Emma Watson, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) quickly becomes a prima donna and Posy is ambitious to the point of sociopathy. Only Petrova (Yasmin Paige, The Sarah Jane Adventures) never lets her desires override her conscience. As much as she hates the spotlight, she abandons her mechanical ambitions to help pay the bills.
It's Paige's Petrova who's the heart and soul of the film, but Watson's face is front and center on all the promotional material, the studio cashing in on her Harry Potter popularity at the expense of the much more talented cast. As the drama's only major male character, Marc Warren (The Vice: The Complete Second Season) proves that he's equally good at playing a sweetie as he is a sneering psycho.
Ballet Shoes comes in anamorphic widescreen and has a stereo track that only really fills out the speakers when the soundtrack launches into "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" or selections from Swan Lake. Deleted scenes that expand on the father/daughter relationships between Sylvia and her uncle and Petrova and Mr. Simpson are the main extra. Also included are the trailer for the movie's limited American theatrical release, an excerpt from the Ballet Shoes audio book, and a lengthy interview with Emma Watson. The narrator for the audio book is pitch perfect and, while the chapter plays, the screen cycles through blurbs on the whole series of "Shoes" books. Yeah, it's a fancy ad, but I can't hate on something that encourages people to read.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I have a tendency to rag on Koch Vision because they acquire good British programming and then release discs with no extras, playability issues, and little restoration. This time around I have absolutely no complaints and that deserves a special mention.
And, what's this? English subtitles? Oh Koch, I could kiss you!
If you love seeing classic children's books done right, then this disc is a no-brainer. Ballet Shoes is ideal viewing for a rainy day or when you have the sniffles, even if you don't have little girls or aren't one yourself. Since this is one of the company's most polished DVDs to date, you can enjoy a cuddly evening in without the guilt.
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