It’s common place for movie characters to make the leap from screen to store shelves. Almost every movie this summer has a spin-off of some sort available for purchase at the local Toys ‘R’ Expensive, but it’s rare that movies hit the big screen with a line of toys already in place. The new film starring twelve-year-old Academy Award nominee Abigail Breslin, Kit Kittredge: An American Girl, takes this backward approach. Inspired by the successful line of wholesome American Girl® dolls, the movie brings to life Kit Kittredge, a plucky depression-era girl who dreams of being a newspaper reporter.
Breslin plays the living doll in this Nancy Drew-esque family-friendly story. Set in Cincinnati (the movie was actually shot in Toronto and Tottenham, Ontario) just as the Great Depression starts to take hold, when we first meet the Kittredges they are a comfortable middle class family. Nine-year-old Kit’s (Breslin) dreams of being the next great newspaper writer are delayed, however, when her father suddenly loses his job and their comfortable existence is changed forever. Dad (Chris O’Donnell) moves to Chicago to look for work while Mom (Julia Ormond) ekes out a living running a boarding house. When a string of “hobo” crimes touches their lives Kit uses her reporting skills to make sure the police arrest the right people.
Kit Kittredge: An American Girl could have been an orgy of product placement for the American Girl® line, but thankfully it is more than that. Definitely aimed at young kids, I’d say the ten and under crowd, its gentle humor, graceful pacing and colorful characters should keep growing minds engaged. Beyond the pure entertainment of the story though, is a timely message about how people respond to economic hard times and the pluck required to deal with a “foreclosure” sign on your front lawn.
Its values are as old fashioned as the story. It teaches tolerance, friendship and the power of hard work, but Canadian director Patricia Rozema (Mansfield Park and I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing) never allows the movie to become preachy. Her steady hand ensures that the heavy messages presented here are almost subliminal; that they work to serve the story instead of vice versa.
At the heart of the movie is Breslin in the lead role. Her fresh-faced naturalistic performance should click with young girls looking for a pre-tween role model who saves the day. She ably supported by an interesting cast of old pros including Stanley Tucci as an itinerant magician, flapper Jane Krakowski and Joan Cusack as a mobile librarian and newcomers like Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith’s daughter Willow Smith as a child hobo.
Kit Kittredge: An American Girl will likely have little or no appeal for the young boys in the house, but should be a hit with ten and under girls.