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Little Women (1949)
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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Little Women is adapted from Louisa May Alcott's classic story of family love and boasts a top-notch cast. The father of the main characters is off fighting in the Civil War. One of the main characters dies from illness, though it's handled offscreen in such a way that younger children may not understand what happened. The March family exemplifies generosity as they struggle with their own poverty yet still manage to share what they have with others who are needier. Family is foremost, and loyalty among the sisters is on display throughout.
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What's the story?
LITTLE WOMEN, adapted from Louisa May Alcott's classic novel, tells the tale of four sisters as they face deprivation and the absence of their father during the Civil War years through their maturation into accomplished young women. This 1949 version's cast includes Mary Astor as gentle mother Marmee, Janet Leigh as responsible Meg, June Allyson as tomboy Jo, Elizabeth Taylor as artistic Amy, and Margaret O'Brien as shy Beth. True to the novel, each girl is portrayed as an individual with flaws and strengths. Protagonist Jo dreams of becoming a writer and traveling the world. Her evolution from a feisty girl who wants to run away to fight alongside her father in the war to the reluctant love interest of next door neighbor Laurie (Peter Lawford) to a published author who can selflessly celebrate her sisters' choices is the narrative anchor of the story.
Is it any good?
This delightful classic treats the Civil War at a distance, but the sisters are depicted pitching in on the home front. The movie also acknowledges the fears that come with change, as Jo longs for things to stay the same rather than having the sisters grow up and move away.
Stylistically, the movie is a product of its era, with pastel-colored skies and heavily made up actresses. Additionally, the sight of the "little women" at the beginning of the movie being played by grown-up actresses is a bit jarring and really only is dispelled when the story moves to their adult lives and decisions. Because major plot elements of the book are left out entirely, interested viewers might want to read the original novel.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the March sisters and how each is a unique character in Little Women. How does that make things easier for them as a family, and how does it make it more difficult? Do you and your siblings have complementary strengths?
The first part of the movie is set during the Civil War. What sacrifices did the girls make to honor the soldiers, and what sacrifices can your family make to honor soldiers now?
Compare this version to the book. Which do you prefer, and why? How does this movie compare to other film versions?
Why is this story considered a classic? Do you think it's still relevant? Why, or why not?
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