A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that kids (especially girls) who are familiar with the vast array of American Girl products (dolls, books, DVDs, etc.) will definitely want to see this movie. The good news is that it's entertaining and even thought-provoking, so it doesn't feel like just a way to sell more stuff (though it probably will do exactly that). And it doesn't depart from the age-appropriateness of the brand -- if anything, it's even tamer than some of the direct-to-DVD movies. There's no swearing; very little violence; and plenty of positive messages. Even kids who've never read an American Girl book will have plenty to enjoy.
What's the story?
Kit Kittredge (Abigail Breslin) dreams of being a big-shot journalist. But her local paper, the Cincinnati Register, won't publish her articles -- the editor tells her that he wants stories that are fresh, new, groundbreaking. As it turns out, Kit doesn't have to look far for inspiration. It's the Great Depression: Banks are foreclosing on her neighbors' houses, her friends are moving away to stay with relatives, and her father's (Chris O'Donnell) car dealership has gone belly up, leaving him with few choices but to head to Chicago to look for work. Meanwhile, her mother (Julia Ormond) has taken in boarders to meet the mortgage, a lively bunch that includes a magician (Stanley Tucci), an oddball "mobile" librarian (Joan Cusack), a dancer (Jane Krakowski), Kit's mom's friend Mrs. Howard (Glenne Headly), and her son, Kit's classmate Stirling (Zach Mills).
Is it any good?
Refreshingly earnest and surprisingly moving, KIT KITTREDGE: AN AMERICAN GIRL is family fare that's anything but basic. Though the plot is fairly standard -- a feisty young girl encounters hardships but finds the sunny side of the street with the help of supportive, loving parents and friends and her own unshakable faith in mankind -- it aims for depth. The movie's efforts to educate audiences about the Great Depression are admirable (a few Depression scenes actually get a bit gloomy, which might briefly unsettle young viewers). And it manages to inform without losing its sense of fun. Kudos are largely due to Breslin, who embraces the role of determined Kit with gusto, though the rest of the cast is strong, too (Cusack is uproarious, as usual).
But among the characters, only Kit seems particularly multi-dimensional. Ormond does her best with the quietly suffering mother role, and although O'Donnell still has lots of presence, he doesn't get to do much here except twirl Kit around whenever he comes home. Some purists may balk at the sets as well -- though laden with period details, they still look somewhat modern on the big screen. Kit's street still seems like a present-day Cincinnati neighborhood, though not for lack of trying. Still, in the end, it's hard not to be affected by this charming adventure.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why kids want to see this movie -- is it because of the story or because they're already familiar with the American Girl brand? If kids are already familiar with Kit's story from the book, ask them how well the movie brings it to life. How does it compare to what they imagined? Families can also discuss what they learned about the Great Depression from watching the movie. Did you know what a hobo was? Why do they make people nervous? Why is it important that Kit's family welcomes hobos and boarders into their home?
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