Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Brave Little Toaster (1987)

Kirby: “Why don't you just shut off?"
Air Conditioner: “Oh, I'm really scared there, Kirby. What are you gonna do, suck me to death?"

Title: The Brave Little Toaster
Genre: Animation
Year: 1987
Rated: Technically NR, but I’m guessing G in ‘87…PG by today’s standards.


Starring
Deanna Oliver as Toaster
Thurl Ravenscroft as Kirby
Jon Lovitz as Radio
Timothy Stack as Lampy
Timothy E. Day as Blanky



Plot: A toaster, a lamp, a radio, a vacuum cleaner, and an electric blanket set out on a journey to find their original owner.


Tagline: Imagine if your toaster went on a journey of its own!


First Viewing: Preschool? Kindergarten?
Added to The List: Always been there.


Comments
So far in this Epic Grand Ranking Attempt, I have reviewed one crime drama, one fantasy, one family film, one comedy, and one animated feature. Film #6 is a combination of the last four. My apologies to those looking for animated crime thriller, but truly, The Brave Little Toaster is full enough without adding gang wars and drug smuggling.



Although most people consider The Brave Little Toaster to be a Disney movie (as they do with all animated movies), they are wrong, wrong, WRONG. “What!?” you say, “But my Video/DVD cases says it’s Disney!”


Sigh… This is kind of a long story, so get comfortable…


First of all, The Brave Little Toaster is based on a novella by Thomas M. Disch. Some time in the mid 80’s, it was adapted into the animated film we know and love today. In the summer of 1987, it debuted on the Disney Channel. The following January, Toaster was shown at the Sundance Film Festival, and was the first and only (until 2001’s Waking Life) animated film to be entered. It was considered for Sundance’s Grand Jury Prize, nominated for the “Outstanding Animated Program” Emmy, and recognized with a Parents’ Choice Award. Despite all this hoopla, Toaster never had a nationwide theatrical release. Finally, sometime between July of 1988 and September of 1991, Disney acquired the rights to the film and distributed it on home video.


So, to make a long story short…someone else made The Brave Little Toaster, but Disney owns it.


It’s not your average origin story for a film, especially for an animated film. But you must remember, The Brave Little Toaster is not your average 80’s animated film. Drawn in an era of “animal movies” (The Secret of NIMH, An American Tale, Oliver & Company), this film sets itself aside and was the only one of its kind until Toy Story came along.


The film begins in a quaint little cottage in the middle of a forest. Five appliances (six, if you include the pessimistic Air Conditioner) are left to their own devices, and continually clean and take care of the cottage and await the day when their beloved Master (a ten-year-old boy) returns. But after years of waiting, the group is growing ever more edgy. When the cottage is put up for sale, the group decides to seek out their Master, certain that he still needs them. And so, the journey begins…

Basically, Toaster’s trek consists of four sections. The first one, the longest and most boring, takes place in the woods while our faithful friends first start traveling to The City. On the way, they encounter a group of dancing frogs, who enjoy making faces in Toaster’s reflection. Blanky is captured by mice. The whole sequence goes on for too long. Even Toaster gets bored.

Still, this sequence has one of the saddest, albeit unnecessary, moments in the history of animation. It’s even listed on Filmsite’s Greatest Tearjerker Films, Scenes, and Movie Moments of All-Time. Here’s the link. Anywho, Toaster is running from the narcissistic frogs and accidentally bumps into a yellow flower who immediately falls in love with its own likeness, unaware it’s just a reflection. Toaster explains this, but the flower will not be convinced otherwise. Toaster then leaves and looks back to see the flower withering and dying.

What’s the point of this scene? Countless times, I’ve seen this movie and still, I do not know. Is Thomas M. Disch saying something about technology’s relation to nature? Is this scene even in the book? Or did the animators think the story was lagging a little on the depressing storyline venue? As if being abandoned by the one person who loves them isn’t enough, now they have to break our hearts with this poor, wilting flower.


In many ways, The Brave Little Toaster is a very uneven film. First off, family friendly animation would have you believe that this is a sweet children’s story about finding your way home ala Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey. And it is. But once you get into to it, you see that there’s more there than the colorful video cover would have you believe.


Besides having one of the saddest moments ever, it also has one of the most terrifying. While still in the “forest phase,” Toaster peacefully dreams of his happy days gone by with The Master, as he makes toasts and faces in his chrome. But suddenly, black smoke emits from Toasters slots. And a black hand grabs The Master away.

And then this scary firefighter clown shows up.

And then forks chase Toaster.

And then he’s hanging helplessly above a bathtub full of water.

Rest easy, my good readers, ‘tis only a dream. But still…what the fuck? How many kids started bawling after this sequence? How many turned off the VCR and never found out what happened to Toaster and his pals? And just what is the director trying to say here? Appliances have fears? And feelings? Pshaw! Nonsense!


Another scene worth noting in the forest phase (I told you it took up most of the movie!), concerns Toaster and Blanky. Lampy very plainly asks Toaster, “So, what’s this thing with you and the blanket?” From there, Toaster explains he feels he should be nice to Blanky from now on and that he gets a warm toasty feeling inside from being nice.

Many, to this day, consider this scene as some kind of rallying cry for homosexual appliances. With Toaster and Blanky both officially being male (a.k.a. being referred to as “he”), and supposing you had the mindset of a 5th grade boy, it could be taken this way. But I prefer to think Toaster and Blanky have more of a father/son relationship as opposed to a romantic one. (I mean, come on people, Blanky has got to be at least emotionally 6 years old!) It’s just another facet in this gem of a movie.


A little more than halfway through the movie, some serious shit starts happening to our group of weary travelers. They are rescued by Elmo St. Peters, a rotund appliance store owner who spends his free time creating his own electrical devices from the pieces of others. Our travelers seemed to be doomed to become one of Mr. St. Peters’ monsters, as explained in the song “B Movie Show” by his many innovations. But the group manages to outwit him and escape to The City.

Little does the group know as they make their way to The Master’s apartment, that he is recently graduated and towards college. And he needs a few cheap, old appliances. You know, the ones from the cottage. Oh, irony. If only they had waited a few more days, all this danger could easily be avoided. So The Master (now officially known as Rob) drives to the cottage and believes it’s been robbed.


At this same time, Toaster and the gang arrive at Rob’s apartment and are met by his newer, fancier appliances. Among them is a computer, even! Through song (“Cutting Edge) our friends slowly realize that The Master has no use for them anymore and silently head to Ernie’s Disposal.

Irony strikes again when Rob decides he wants old stuff to take to the dorm. So he ends up going to Ernie’s Disposal (advertised as “Crazy Ernie’s Amazing Emporium of Total Bargain Madness, by Toaster’s old friend, the T.V.) to look for just that.

While at “Crazy Ernie’s” our electrical friends accept their fate as scrap metal. Around them, old cars of all kinds sing their sob stories through the song “Worthless” as they are dropped on a conveyor belt and crushed into cubes. This is kind of like a precursor to Pixar’s Cars…but way more morbid.

Anywho, the scary magnet who collects these cars seems to have it in for Toaster and his pals and relentlessly chases them around the junkyard. All seems lost, but hark! Thy Master comes along, recognizes his appliances from childhood and collects them. Mr. Evil Magnet doesn’t like this one bit and dumps the Master on the Conveyor Belt of Doom along with some other junk that traps him and destines him for Cubesville.

Then the toaster, oh, that brave little toaster, selflessly throws himself into the gears of the cube maker, which saves his master’s life. And then somehow, Rob discovers what stopped the trash compactor. And that it was a toaster. And that it was his toaster from the cottage. Yeah…it’s all so realistic. But how else are we supposed to get to the happy ending?

So, Rob repairs Toaster, who still manages to make some damn fine toast, despite all those gears mangling his inside mechanisms. And all the appliances to college. And they all live happily ever after…until the sequels. DUN, DUN, DUN!

The Brave Little Toaster is, quite obviously, a prototype for Toy Story/Toy Story 2/Probably Toy Story 3, just by having inanimate objects come to life. As adults, it’s easy to look back fondly of playing with our toys. So, it’s just as easy to believe toys come to life in an animated feature, because they seemed so real back then. But how many of you played with your toaster? When was the last time you patted your desk lamp on the head? Or appreciated your vacuum? Creating sympathy for ordinary household objects is quite a feat, and this film manages to do it perfectly.

I’ve done you a disservice by not talking about the other characters, so I’ll do it now, as this blog comes to a much needed end. The characters are truly what drives the film. Each of them is likable in their own way…even the annoying, babyish blanket. Lampy, with is na├»ve optimism, is my favorite. And unlike the title would have you believe, each of the characters acts bravely and sacrifices something to be reunited with their master.

Favorite Screencap
A shot of Toaster just before he sacrifices himself for The Master.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Departed (2006)

Frank: “You do well in school?”
Colin: “Yeah.”
Frank: “Good. So did I. They call that a paradox.”

Title: The Departed
Genre: Crime Drama
Year: 2006
Rated: R


Starring
Leonardo DiCaprio as Billy Costigan
Matt Damon as Colin Sullivan
Jack Nicholson as Frank Costello
Mark Wahlberg as Sean Dignam
Plot: Two men, on opposite sides of the law, go undercover within the Massachusetts State Police and the Irish Mafia.


Tagline: Cops or criminals. When you’re facing a loaded gun, what’s the difference?


First Viewing: Theater, October 13, 2006.
Added to The List: Some time shortly there after…November?


Comments Yeah, I know. It doesn’t make much sense to me either. If you skimmed down my list of favorites, there are some definite patterns: romances, period films, animation…but nothing that would lead you to believe I would ever like a movie like The Departed. So far in this Epic, Grand Movie Ranking Attempt, the closest thing to a “man movie” would be Son-In-Law. I’ll admit that I probably will never appreciate man movie elements as much as my male counterparts, or even some women, but believe me when I say, I fucking love this movie.


I seriously considered typing one sentence in the comments section of this blog: It’s fucking awesome. But then I decided my oh-so-many readers would be clamoring for the reason why a person who's favorite movie is Beauty and the Beast likes this testosterone driven mob movie. So here it is...


Let’s begin with the reason why I saw it in the first place: it was Oscar Season. As you may not know yet, I love the Oscars. I have been following it since 2004. So I knew my Academy Awards history. I knew that 5 of Martin Scorsese’s films had been nominated for Best Picture. And since a new one was coming out in the fall of 2006, one with all his traditional masculine, violent elements and a starstudded cast, I decided to see it. Plus, it had Leonardo DiCaprio, so even if it sucked, I could spend the two and half hours staring at him.


Indeed, I did stare at him, but only because I was in complete and utter awe of his acting ability. I always knew he was more than just “that pretty face from Titanic,” but until The Departed, I had nothing to point and at and snidely say, “See?” A friend of mine once said, “Leonardo DiCaprio out acts everyone in this film.” And he was absolutely right. Even though Leo is up against seasoned actors such as Jack Nicholson and Martin Sheen, and even more contemporary peers like Matt Damon and Mark Wahlberg, he manages to hold his own and then some.


Leonardo DiCaprio is one of my favorite actors and this film is his best…so far. He plays Billy Costigan, a state trooper working undercover as one of Frank Costello’s many minions. And because he plays such a conflicted character, not knowing who he is and having to pretend to be someone he’s not, Leo has a lot on his plate. In fact, I only think Billy smiles about three times in the movie. Most of the time he looks like he’s either going to cry or kill somebody.

See?


I don’t really want to get into the plot of The Departed. It’s very complex and would take me about an hour to sum up every important detail. So I’ll just leave you with my convenient one sentence plot summary at the top of the page. Besides if you haven’t seen it, my synopsis would hardly do it justice.

The acting is superb. I’m really surprised there weren’t more acting nominations, actually. The lone Oscar nod went to Mark Wahlberg who I thoroughly enjoyed as the foul mouthed Sgt. Dignam. I wanted him to win, but instead the Oscar went to Alan Arkin in Little Miss Sunshine. Hey, at least he didn’t lose to this guy…

Let’s face it, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t discuss the main romantic plotline. By no means is it the most important part of the film, and I don’t mean to portray it as so. It’s not even my favorite. But since I’m better at nitpicking a love story, I'll start with what I know and then work my way to the more serious stuff.


Despite The Departed being a man movie through and through, there actually is a female character. One…but she’s there. Madolyn Madden is played by Vera Farmiga, an actress I haven’t seen in anything else. Her part in this grand picture is as an occupational psychiatrist who Colin meets in an elevator and begins dating. Their relationship becomes more and more serious throughout the film.

At first, it seems as if Madolyn will be the “dumb girlfriend” who later discovers her boyfriend is a two-faced liar and corrupt detective. But the plot thickens when Billy is forced to see her due to his fake “probation.” (All part of the undercover gig.) After this scene, Madolyn begins casually seeing Billy, despite dating Colin and moving in with him. Just before Madolyn makes the big move, Billy comes over to her house and they have sex.


Billy’s relationship with Madolyn is very important. After all, the only people he has contact with is his Undercover Unit commanders and Frank’s group. All of his family is dead and those who aren’t, are also a part of the mafia. Madolyn is his only friend throughout the entire ordeal. And even she leaves him, knowing she must be loyal to Colin.


Towards the end of the movie, Madolyn tells Colin that she’s pregnant. Personally, I like to believe the kid is Billy’s. But there’s no way of knowing for sure. Take these clues for example:


1. Colin had impotency issues. It’s quite possible that Madolyn and him weren’t even having sex for long stretches of time.
2. When Billy brings Madolyn the envelope, she tries to tell him something. He tells her to think about whatever she has to say and if she still wants to tell him in two weeks, to call him. Hmmm…


I realize stuff like this doesn’t seem relevant to the movie. But it is. In most, if not all of Martin Scorsese’s films, masculinity is often explored. What makes a man? From a biological standpoint, a man’s purpose is to fertilize an egg. And for that to happen, one needs to have an erection and ejaculate, to get scientifically graphic. This proves to be impossible (at times) for Colin. So is Martin Scorsese saying that he’s not really a man?


Fatherhood is definitely at the heart of The Departed. On one side we have Detective Queenen (Martin Sheen), the commander of the Undercover Unit. He acts as an ideal father figure for Billy and Dignam, by being a hardworking, honest, respectable man. There’s also George Ellerby, (Alec Baldwin) the commander of Special Investigations Unit, who acts as an equally positive father figure for Colin.

But then on the other side, there’s Frank Costello, who portrays the negative end of the spectrum for both Billy and Colin. In all respects, he’s the villain of the story. It’s he who takes Colin under his wing as a boy and basically corrupts him.


Billy, coincidentally, serves as another surrogate son for Costello. But since he is at a less impressionable age than Colin was, Costello never causes any permanent damage to Billy. This is one of the reasons I love this movie. The good guys never turn to the dark side...with the exception of a minor character. It must be noted that Billy had a strong father figure growing up, which probably adds to it.

This whole theme comes to a fever pitch at the end of the film. One of Costello’s operations has gone terribly awry. Colin has figured out that Costello is an FBI informant and asks about his own neck. The dialogue goes like this:


Colin: “Do they know about me?” Frank: “I know about you, Collie. You know I’d never give you up. You’re like a—” Colin: “What? Like a son? To you? Is that what this is about? All that murdering and fucking, and no sons.”


At this point, Frank fires his gun at Colin and misses. In turn, Colin shoots and kills Frank. Obviously, Costello’s inability to have children is a touchy subject, one that probably isn’t brought up often. And if it is, no one probably lives long enough to spread the truth. Fatherhood is important most of the men in this film. The fact that Costello, a man who spends most of his free time fucking supermodels, can't have children is a sign that, at least in this film, that evil=sterility. This is why I think Billy is the father of Madolyn's baby.


The Departed was my choice for Best Picture in the 2006 Oscar race. It became the first movie for which Martin Scorsese won an Academy Award. And rightly so. I’ve read in several articles that Martin Scorsese’s Oscar was an award for his body of work instead of just The Departed. Many believe he should have won earlier in 1980 or 1990 for Raging Bull or Goodfellas, respectively. I’ll admit that I haven’t seen either of them. (I know, shame on me). And maybe if I had, I would feel differently. To me, The Departed is one of the greatest films of all time and deserved to be rewarded.


As you can see, The Departed is a very complex film with many facets. I’m sure someone could write a thesis on this bitch. Looking over all I have written, it seems like I have. Since it’s nearly midnight, and since I’ve been working on this blog for three days, I will end it now with no clever or interesting conclusion.


Favorite Screencap

Don't judge me.

P.S. I like how sweaty Alec Baldwin gets in this scene.


Next Film: The Brave Little Toaster

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Hook (1991)

“You know that place between sleep and awake? That place where you still remember dreaming? That’s where I’ll always love you, Peter Pan. That’s where I’ll be waiting.”
-Tinkerbell

Title: Hook
Genre: Fantasy
Year: 1991
Rated: PG


Starring
Robin Williams as Peter Banning/Peter Pan
Dustin Hoffman as Captain Hook
Julia Roberts as Tinkerbell
Charlie Korsmo as Jack Banning
Plot: When Captain Hook kidnaps his children, an adult Peter Pan must return to Neverland and must reclaim his youthful spirit in order to challenge his nemesis.

Tagline:
What if Peter Pan grew up?



First Viewing: Wow…uh, early 90’s, my other grandma’s house.
Added to The List: Always been there.


Comments I have a theory. How much you like a movie is directly proportionate to the age at what you first watched it. This is especially true of “bad” movies. Several critically panned movies make my list. Usually this is either because it strikes an emotional chord with me or because it is deeply rooted in my childhood. This is case with Steven Spielberg’s 1991 fantasy flop, Hook.


To begin with, I love Peter Pan. Love it. The Disney version was one of my very favorite childhood movies before I entered first grade. In fact, for my fourth, fifth, and sixth birthdays, I wished I could fly like Peter Pan. This resulted in several rug burns on my face after nose diving off of the highest piece of furniture in my living room. My faith in birthday wishes has never been the same.


I can’t exactly remember my first viewing of Hook. I know that my grandma (not the Son-In-Law grandma, my other one) had it and I would watch it whenever my parents dumped me on her doorstep. It didn’t bother me that the movie was live action or the characters were new (a.k.a. Rufio) or different. Hook was a continuation of a story I loved and that was all that mattered.

As a kindergartener, I was unaware of Hook’s financial and critical failure. And even if I was an economically savvy five-year-old and understood the power of the opening weekend, I doubt it would have mattered. I realize that kids aren’t the most objective film critics. A talking squirrel and a few fart jokes will hold most children’s attention. But there are some kids movies that you never outgrow. That is more evident than ever when it comes to my generation, a generation that had a wide variety of family friendly movies. Some stand the test of puberty and some don’t.


So, when I read the 17 year old reviews for this movie, I can’t quite comprehend why everyone disliked it so much. I don’t want to comprehend it either. I’d rather remain blissfully ignorant to Hook’s many faults. To me, why fix what isn’t broken?


Although fond childhood memories are the biggest reason for Hook’s spot on my list, there is more. And it involves Tinkerbell. First and foremost: I have never liked Tinkerbell. Currently, Disney has yanked their Tink on the Disney Princess bandwagon and you can find her upturned, snotty face on the t-shirts of third graders at an elementary school near you. I’ve always been more of a “Wendy girl” myself. Tinkerbell is irritating, spiteful, and psychotically jealous not someone who’s merchandise I’d own. So what’s the deal?


In Hook, Tinkerbell is portrayed less like Peter’s bratty, immature protector and more like his fun loving companion. And she talks. And actually says a few fairly intelligent things. Overall, even though she’s played by Julia Roberts (who was only cast because she was Hollywood’s current hot young thing) she is still more likable than Disney’s or P.J. Hogan’s Tinkerbell.


Also added to Tink’s more laid back persona, is the unrequited love factor. In the original story/play/book/movie (whatever) it’s quite obvious that Tink is protective of Peter and doesn’t want Wendy giving him any thimbles. She even goes as far as to attempt to kill Wendy. This selfish act doesn’t seem to fit Hook’s Tinkerbell. I think this is because of the scene when Tink sees Peter kiss Wendy’s granddaughter (and his future wife), Moira. She knows she’s lost her best friend forever. I don’t think Tinkerbell feels a romantic love for Peter at this point. It’s definitely a friend-love. I’m not sure exactly what the rules about relationships between young boys and pixies are, but I’m certain it’s not in any way sordid. It isn’t until later when she sees him as an adult when she magically wishes herself big enough to kiss him. But, in the end, she sends him off to do what he came to do: rescue his kids from Hook.

I’ve read several reviews on this movie. Generally, Dustin Hoffman’s portrayal of Captain Hook is disliked. Why? I’m not sure. He is Captain Hook to me and probably a lot of other people. I also like Robin Williams as Peter. Bob Hoskins is excellent as Smee. The kids who play Jack and Maggie are believable. And Dame Maggie Smith plays a great Granny Wendy. The only casting I don’t agree with is Julia Roberts, and even then, it doesn’t change the way I feel about Hook.


All in all, this movie gives the Peter Pan legend an interesting twist. It’s an angle I think deserved to be explored. (Similarly to what happens to Dorothy after she returns from Oz (Oooh...more on that later)). It might be hard for some to see their favorite childhood hero as an adult. Or a father. Or a bad father. But that’s the good thing about sequels: if you don’t like them, you can always pretend they don’t exist.



Favorite Screencap

Tinkerbell witnesses Peter's first kiss with Wendy's granddaughter, Moira, and realizes that he will soon leave her to grow up.


Next Film: The Departed

A Little Princess (1995)

“I am a princess. All girls are. Even if they live in tiny old attics. Even if they dress is rags. Even if they aren’t pretty or smart or young. They’re still princesses. All of us. Didn’t you father ever tell you that? Didn’t he?”
-Sara Crewe 
Title: A Little Princess
Genre: Drama
Year: 1995
Rated: PG

Starring
Liesel Matthews as Sara Crewe
Eleanor Bron as Miss Minchin
Liam Cunningham as Captain Crewe
Vanessa Lee Chester as Becky

Plot: A wealthy little girl is forced into servitude at her boarding school after she is left destitute by her father who is missing and presumed dead during World War I.

Tagline: Every girl everywhere is a princess.

First Viewing: Probably a rental, some time in the mid-90’s
Added to The List: 2004 (Junior year of high school)

Comments
A Little Princess is everything you’d ever want in a mid-90’s film purposefully created for pre-pubescent girls. If you were a child of the 90’s as I was, you’ve probably seen this movie countless times. And how could you not? It has all the necessary elements:

Touching father-daughter storyline?

Check. Evil, hatchet faced matron villainess?

Check. Interracial friendship? Gorgeous costumes? The word princess generously sprinkled throughout the dialogue?

Check. Check. Double check.

I mean not to question the integrity of A Little Princess as a story. I mean to question it as a creation of studio executives looking for “another Secret Garden.” And what could be better than that other novel about a girl by the same author? Frances Hodgson Burnett is, indeed, the author of both children’s classics The Secret Garden and A Little Princess. Both of Warner Brother’s treatments make My List. And today, my lucky reader, I will discuss the former.

I have to state, here and now, that I didn’t really “grow up” with this version. I saw it a few times. Mostly at sleepovers. I, myself, owned the 1939 Shirley Temple version, The Little Princess. At my young age, I don’t recall which I preferred. Since the Shirley one was the one I had, I watched it when I needed that triumph over adversity story. But after entering high school, I bought this version and watched them back to back and was totally blown away.

As much of a film fan I am, I usually care for modern movies versus “classics.” I suppose it may be a character flaw. I think I’m simply a product of my generation. But I digress…the 1995 version of A Little Princess is superior to the 1939 version in every single God damn way. The acting, the music, the sets, the costumes, the dialogue…EVERYTHING is better. This film was even nominated for two Academy Awards: Best Art Direction and Best Cinematography. (It lost both to Restoration and Braveheart, respectively).

Still, I can’t lie. A Little Princess is most definitely a children’s story. Sara has a rivalry with another rich (but snotty) girl named Lavinia. She tutors the school dunce, Ermengarde. And she befriends the black servant girl, Becky. Roughly the first half of the film is spent showing Sara adjusting to life at boarding school and her polite head-butting with Miss Minchin. (More on her later). Yet, A Little Princess is still relatable to an adult audience. The movie is mature and runs deeper than the average viewer would expect.

First of all, A Little Princess never “talks down” to its audience. It shows the harsh realities of life in the early 20th century for orphans and other unfortunates. After Sara is “orphaned” she is forced to become a servant at the boarding school. From here on out, Sara’s pampered life falls to the wayside and she becomes a servant like Becky and must live in the attic. The exciting Indian legends she told her classmates become mere fantasies as she falls into despair and accepts her life of drudgery.

One of the most heart wrenching scenes takes place when Sara is mistaken for a beggar and given some money. Sara chooses to indulge herself and buys an iced croissant. She is about to take bite when she notices a woman with two young daughters and a baby peddling useless yellow roses. Patron after patron passes by their dirty, sallow faces. Sara takes pity on the family, realizing she doesn’t have it nearly as bad. The children accept the food and the mother gives Sara a flower saying, “For the princess.”

I realize this scene may be a little too much for some viewers. It is melodramatic. But in a way, it’s honest. Along with Sara, we as an audience realize that Sara’s plight isn’t half of what it could be. If Miss Minchin had decided to turn her out, who knows what could have happened to Sara? Would she be selling flowers on the street? Or something else? Of course, with this being a family film, this possibility is never mentioned but left for the speculation for those old enough to foresee it.

See what I mean about A Little Princess being deeper than it leads on?

With all my praising, I have to admit that this movie isn’t perfect. In fact it has one glaring fault. Okay, maybe “glaring” is a little strong. Maybe flickering. Yes, flickering. An annoying flickering. Like the performance of Eleanor Bron as Miss Minchin.

I’ll just come out and say it: it’s too over the top. In a movie full of inexperienced child actors, performances will never be all they can be. (This does not apply to Liesel Matthews who is, rightly so, the strongest child actor). But when it comes to the adult roles, you expect…maturity? This something that is missing from Eleanor Bron’s performance, surely.

It seems like this portrayal of Miss Minchin is caught somewhere in between the comical nastiness of the Wicked Witch of the West and the unspoken evil of Lady Tremaine from Disney’s Cinderella. There is so much untapped evil in her character. And still, Eleanor Bron chooses to act like a spiteful teenage girl instead of a bitter, tightly wound spinster like in the 1939 version.

One interesting scene concerning Miss Minchin is after Sara’s “I am a princess” speech. At the end she demands to know if Mr. Minchin ever told her she was princess. Miss Minchin avoids the question and leaves Sara’s attic room. Outside the door, she allows herself to weep and then angrily wipes away her tear. One can only speculate what this tear means. Perhaps it’s the reason for Miss Minchin’s immaturity. But then there’s Amelia, Miss Minchin’s sister. She seemed well adjusted enough. She even runs off with the milk man and lives happily ever after. Could Amelia have been the favorite child in the Minchin household? Burning questions all...

Speaking of a happily ever afters, in this film and the 1939 version, both Saras are reunited with their fathers and saved from their hellish position. From what I read on Wikipedia, in the book, Sara’s father actually dies and stays dead. One of Captain Crewe’s business partners ends up adopting Sara. I have to admit I like the movie ending much, much more. I’m not what you’d call a Daddy’s girl, but even I cry when Sara is screaming for her father to remember her. (He has amnesia due to mustard gas). This is one of the only movies to make me cry without it being over a romantic subplot. (I also cry at the flower people part).

After writing this blog, I have decided to read the book to see how much, if anything, can be found about Miss Minchin. And how many of the quotes are accurate. And what's left in and out. I should probably read all of the books on which my favorite movies are based. I'm very much looking forward to watching The Secret Garden so I can compare and contrast them to my heart's desire.

Favorite Screencap
Earlier in the film, Sara tells and Indian legend of a man who draws a circle in the sand for his wife to stay safe in. After Sara learns of her father's death, she draws a circle on the floor of her attic room and sleeps inside it.

Next Film: Hook