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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Heidi (2015) is a lovely retelling of the Johanna Spyri book about a spirited orphaned child in late 19th-century Europe. Heidi's time-honored quest to find a permanent place in the world takes her from her first days in a simple, rough-hewn cabin in the Swiss Alps with an eccentric grandfather to the sophisticated life of Frankfurt, Germany, as a ward in the home of a wealthy businessman. While there are a few suspenseful sequences (several in which it appears that a ghost is haunting the Frankfurt mansion) and many touching, delicate moments in which Heidi's well-being and happiness are at stake, there are no scares and little action (Peter, the goatherd, uses a stick to break up a goat fight). Still, kids should be old enough to handle emotional scenes in which the young heroine faces disappointment and homesickness and realizes that she is either not wanted or not understood. Made with care and sensitivity and beautifully photographed, this German production (released in both dubbed and subtitled versions for English-speaking audiences) is a welcome addition to the Heidi collection.
What's the story?
In HEIDI (2015), with no warning, Aunt Dete (Anna Schinz) drops her niece, 8-year-old orphaned Heidi (a delightful Anuk Steffen), at the isolated, rough log cabin mountain home of her reluctant grandfather (Bruno Ganz). The old man, held in contempt and fear by nearby villagers, is furious and orders them away. But Dete persists, abandoning the little girl. Befriending Peter (Quirrin Agrippi), a young goatherd, Heidi learns to love the austere alpine life and soon wins the hearts of her grandfather and the villagers. Months later, Aunt Dete returns. Filled with remorse at leaving Heidi behind, the woman has secured a new place for the girl as companion to a wheelchair-bound Klara (Isabelle Ottmann), daughter of a wealthy widowed Frankfurt businessman in their lavish home. Heidi, despite being unable to read or write and ignorant of the many niceties and manners necessary in such an environment, once again wins over the household staff with her spirited nature. Klara adores her, and the two become great allies. Only Klara's governess, the uptight Fraulein Rottenmeier (Katharina Schuttler), who runs the home during the owner's long absences, mistreats her new charge. Still, Heidi, once again deposited in an unfamiliar place without a choice, grows more and more homesick, hoping for even a glimpse of the mountains she left behind. In a stroke of good fortune, Heidi's unhappiness comes to the attention of another grandparent, Klara's caring, compassionate Grandmother Sesemann (Hannalore Hoger). With the good woman's help, Heidi is able to return to her true home and, in the process, bring joy, hope, and even a little magic to everyone involved.
Is it any good?
Gorgeously photographed, with wonderful performances and artful direction, this production honors the spirit, intent, and gratifying story created by Johanna Spyri in her classic 1880 children's book. From the opening scenes, director Alain Gsponer's lush version of the story reveals his command both of a long-ago time and place and of filmmaking designed to evoke strong emotions and accessibility. Heidi (2015) is the most recent film adaptation of the story, following numerous movies for theaters and television, the most well-known of which is the 1937 Heidi, starring Shirley Temple. Anuk Steffen makes this Heidi her own; her performance is flawless and endearing. Bruno Ganz, a much-honored German actor, delivers a nuanced Grandfather. It appears that the dubbed version of the DVD is the most readily available in the U.S., but the subtitled film is a solid entry for strong readers. This film is highly recommended.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the differences between Heidi's life in the mountains and her stay in Frankfurt. What, specifically, did she miss about her home with her grandfather? What were the positive results of her time at Klara's house?
How did the filmmakers use the simple ritual of eating meals with family as a means of showing the vast disparity between Heidi's two homes? What other symbols did they use to heighten those disparities (clothing, windows)?
Why did Peter destroy Klara's wheelchair? Did you agree with Heidi's decision to so easily forgive him? Why, or why not?
Even though we are aware that people who are confined to wheelchairs can't simply get up and walk, we accept it as part of this story. The filmmakers tried to prepare the audience for this event when Heidi went to Frankfurt. Can you remember what specific moment indicated that Klara's recovery might be a possibility? (Hint: It had to do with Klara's history and the emotional component of her condition.)
- In theaters: April 10, 2015
- On DVD or streaming: April 4, 2017
- Cast: Anuk Steffen, Bruno Ganz, Isabelle Ottman
- Director: Alain Gsponer
- Studio: Studio Canal
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Adventures, Book characters, Misfits and underdogs
- Character strengths: Courage, Curiosity, Empathy, Gratitude
- Run time: 111 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
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