Based on the mega-popular line of dolls, Kit Kittredge: An American Girl is everything you want from a child-friendly flick. It's touching and positive, well-crafted and even bound to entertain parents. And now, several months after a commercially disappointing theatrical release in the summer of 2008, the current economic meltdown has made this Depression-era period film disconcertingly relevant. Timing is everything, as they say.
Abigail Breslin again shows that she is a supremely capable young actor. Her Margaret Mildred "Kit" Kittredge is smart and spunky, but not so much that you don't buy her as a 10-year-old girl. It is 1934 in Cincinnati, the height of the Great Depression, but the Kittredge family is faring better than many of its neighbors. Such affluence affords Kit the luxury of hanging out with pals in her treehouse and popping into the local newspaper offices in hopes of someday becoming a reporter.
Then reality strikes. Mr. Kittredge (Chris O'Donnell) goes to Chicago for work after the bank forecloses on his car dealership. With dad gone, Mrs. Kittredge (Julia Ormond) tries to pick up some extra money by taking in boarders. The new guests are a motley bunch, including a gangly mobile librarian (Joan Cusack), a man-hungry dance instructor (Jane Krakowski), a traveling magician (Stanley Tucci), a society lady fallen on hard times (Glenne Headly) and her young son (Zach Mills), who befriends Kit.
Meanwhile, a rash of crime in the region is being blamed on the hobos who move from town to town. Two young hobos (Max Thieriot and Willow Smith) who do odd jobs for Mrs. Kittredge are soon under suspicion by police, but the kids are so doe-eyed and open-hearted, Kit -- and the audience -- have no doubt that the pair are falsely accused. Our intrepid heroine shuns the pervasive hobophobia and sets out to prove the boys innocent.
In some respects, Kit Kittredge is a history lesson disguised as family entertainment, but don't let that scare you away. There are plenty of sights and sounds of the Depression, yes, from soup kitchens to hobo camps. More than anything, however, director Patricia Rozema and screenwriter Ann Peacock have fashioned a handsome, well-oiled story about an adolescent girl learning to hone her ambitions and stick by her convictions.
The filmmakers have the benefit of a sparkling cast. Breslin is pleasingly plucky, while Cusack, Tucci and Krakowski all find the sweet spot between comic and heartwarming. Wallace Shawn scores in a few brief scenes as the irascible newspaper editor. Zach Mills proves to be an engagingly precocious-free child thespian.
The movie has its flaws, to be sure. Joseph Vitarelli's music score is heavy on the sap, and the tale devolves into a cheesy third act that wouldn't be out of place in an old ABC after-school special. Still, the bulk of Kit Kittredge: An American Girl is as clever, energetic and irresistible as its protagonist.
Presented in anamorphic widescreen 1.85:1, Kit Kittredge: An American Girl boasts a sharp and clear picture. Colors are solid and nicely saturated, with details and lines strong.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 doesn't get much of a workout. The mix tends to be flat, but dialogue is clear and free from distortion or drop-out. Optional subtitles are in Spanish and English for the hearing-impaired.
Just a few blink-and-you'll-miss-it American Girl movie trailers.
If you're looking for a movie to share with your child, Kit Kittredge: An American Girl is worth your time. Strong acting and storytelling make this several cuts above your run-of-the-mill family fare.