Kit Kittredge, directed by Patricia Rozema, is the fourth of the American Girl series of illustrated children’s novels (along with Samantha, Felicity and Molly) to be adapted into a movie. However, it’s the first to enjoy a theatrical as opposed to a television release. This kiddie-oriented whodunit is based on a best seller by Valerie Tripp and Walter Rane aimed at 2nd to 4th graders and stars “Little Miss Sunshine” Abigail Breslin in the title role as a spunky, 10 year-old aspiring journalist.
The story unfolds in Cincinnati in May of 1934 where we find the Kittredge family better off than most in the midst of the financial collapse which has already engulfed much of the country. We learn that Kit’s father (Chris O’Donnell) has managed to keep his struggling car dealership afloat thus far, although there’s plenty of evidence that others haven’t been so lucky. Initially oblivious of the financial crisis, precocious Kit visits the offices of the local daily newspaper, hoping to have her article on the Chicago World’s Fair published. After not being taken seriously as a reporter by the tabloid’s curmudgeonly editor (Wallace Shawn), she turns her attention to more age-appropriate matters, like swearing in her friend, Florence Stone (Erin Hilgartner), as the newest member of her all-girl, secret Tree House Club.
But reality begins to set in when the bank forecloses on the Stones and they end up homeless and waiting in line to eat at a soup kitchen. Next, Kittredge Motors fails, and Kit’s father has to move to Chicago to look for employment. Meanwhile, to keep a roof over their heads, Mrs. Kittredge (Julia Ormond) decides to take in a few boarders, and a more colorful collection of characters you couldn’t hope to find.
There’s Lucinda Bond (Joan Cusack), a loony mobile librarian who can’t drive straight; May Dooley (Jane Krakowski), a down-and-out dance teacher in need of a shoulder to lean on; and Jefferson Jasper Renee Berk (Stanley Tucci), a masterful magician with tons of tricks up his sleeve. So, this motley crew put on a lighthearted sideshow as the Kittredges adust to living with a houseful of tenants.
The plot thickens when the city falls victim to a string of similar robberies, and Kit becomes consumed with cracking the case, ala Nancy Drew or The Hardy Boys. She witnesses one pickpocket in progress and observes that the perpetrator has a telltale tattoo on his arm. Therefore, after the clueless cops finger an innocent hobo, it makes her that much more determined that justice prevails.
Overall, Kit Kittredge: An American Girl is a wholesome, family-friendly adventure reminiscent of the best of Disney from the Mouse House’s heyday during the Fifties and Sixties. Given the engaging tale, the period costumes, the clean dialogue, the timely universal themes with heartwarming messages and the satisfying send-off, you have to wonder why nobody seems to make movies like this anymore.
That being said, if anybody can explain to me exactly what adorable Willow Smith (Will and Jada’s daughter) was doing cross-dressing as a male street urchin in what amounted to a throwaway role, that would be very much appreciated.
Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 97 minutes
To see a trailer of the film, visit: http://youtube.com/watch?v=WeJNNG-wSbk