The American Girl phenomenon is familiar to anyone with a pre-teen girl and a certain level of disposable income. Their line of dolls, accessories, and books focusing on different eras of American life is a nice alternative to Barbie’s empty headed consumerism and the Bratz’ skankiness. Previous dolls have been given the direct-to-DVD treatment, but Kit Kittredge is the first to get a theatrical release, now available on DVD and Blu-ray. Although Kit Kittredge: An American Girl is based on the doll and book series, the movie is a good stand-alone family film. Nine year old Kit (Abigail Breslin) lives in 1934 Cincinnati with her father, Jack (Chris O’Donnell), and mother, Margaret (Julie Ormond). Although the Great Depression is in full swing, Kit is more focused on getting the Cincinnati Register to publish a story she has written. Of course, she is rebuffed by the editor (Wallace Shawn); she’s only nine!
Kit’s focus moves off her improbably journalistic career and onto her family's tenuous financial condition as her father leaves town to look for work and her mother begins to take in boarders. This brings Kit into closer contact with the effects of the Depression but never really dims her relentless optimism. A group of (don’t call them bums) hobos set up camp outside of town and a young bum/hobo named Will (Max Thieriot), who does work around the Kittredge house in exchange for food, becomes the prime suspect in a series of burglaries. This turns Kit and her friends into a set of junior Hardy Boys to find the “real” culprits, since a Hobo would never do anything like steal money, that’s crazy!
The script, by The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe writer Ann Peacock, seems heavily influenced by the series of Kit books written by Valerie Tripp. The movie is somewhat episodic, with Part I covering Kit’s writing aspirations, Part II involving the Hobo’s life and the “learning of important lessons” which is required in these movies, and Part III on Kit’s investigation into the supposed Hobo crime spree. The structure works fine, mostly due to the inspired decision to cast the excellent Breslin as Kit rather than going for an unknown or someone without the Oscar nominee’s acting chops.
The entire cast, which also includes Stanley Tucci, Jane Krakowski, Joan Cusack, and Glenne Headly as the Kittredge boarders, is excellent. They support Breslin in propping up a story that doesn’t exactly shatter new ground. It does have more depth than you might expect and moves along without getting boring. It also has a decent amount of humor despite not going the way of many kid’s movies and relying heavily on poop and fart jokes or pratfalls. The whole point is to entertain, teach some important (although unoriginal) moral lessons to those under 12 in the audience, and have a small amount of fun. It does a nice job meeting those modest goals.
Kit Kittredge: An American Girl is not going to appeal much to anyone between the ages of 13 and 30, or really any adults without children. As a family-film, though, it has a lot of charm, thanks to Breslin and her unending likeability factor. The project stinks of class, which keeps it from breaking much new ground, but making it worthwhile if you (or your daughter) falls into its somewhat narrow focus. Wow. This is a good movie but what a crummy Blu-ray release. The theatrical release didn’t set the world on fire so the strategy here seems to be putting the home entertainment release out as cheaply as possible. This is counter-productive in my view.
Kit Kittredge has only one extra and it barely qualifies to be called by that name. It consists of three trailers for the other American Girl DVDs. They might as well show candy bar or beer commercials and call those “extras.” Adding insult to more insult is that the trailers are all very short, so even as trailers they kinda stink.
That’s all there is, no commentary, no deleted scenes, no puff piece making-of extra, nothing. You do get a digital copy of the movie which will allow you to copy the movie to your American Girl fanatic’s computer or digital media player. That’s nice, but doesn’t really make up for the lack of extras.
Since the movie isn’t effects heavy, it doesn’t really bring out the best in HD technology, but watching on Blu-ray is still a pleasure. The production design of the movie is meticulous and it comes out sharply in HD. There are no technical problems or glitches other than the disappointment that comes when you click on the “Special Features” menu and get those three damn ads.
This is a good movie, so I’m trying to keep the “Disc” rating as high as possible since girls 3 to 12 will enjoy this film, extras or no. Still, it’s disappointing to grab a Blu-ray and get almost nothing for it. This is a good rental.
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