A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that the movie explores some sensitive storylines, such as socioeconomic differences and how children cope with the death of parents -- the main character is an orphan being raised by her grandmother. The DVD does a good, thoughtful job of addressing these issues.
What's the story?
Samantha (AnnaSophia Robb) is a 9-year-old orphan who lives with her wealthy grandmother (Mia Farrow). Spirited and sensitive, Samantha has a loving relationship with "Grandmary," although the girl's tomboyish ways occasionally frustrate (and bemuse) the dignified older woman. Samantha also gets frustrated and sad because she deeply misses her parents and knows talking about them would be too upsetting for Grandmary. When three young sisters and their widower-father move in next door to work as servants, Samantha immediately befriends the girls. Samantha also struggles with jealousy when her beloved, fun-loving Uncle Gard (Jordan Bridges) introduces her to his fiancée. But the little girl learns to love her new Aunt Cornelia (Rebecca Mader), a kind and intelligent woman who genuinely cares about Samantha.
Is it any good?
SAMANTHA: AN AMERICAN GIRL HOLIDAY beautifully brings to life both New York in the year 1904 and one of the dolls from the American Girl collection. Originally airing on TV, this story is a poignant portrait of a girl trying to make a difference. The obvious class difference between Samantha and her neighbors is handled skillfully in this movie, and Samantha understands how she can make a positive difference in the lives of those less fortunate. Indeed, the movie portrays Samantha as a role model for young girls. However, she is also a believable character who sometimes uses poor judgment, as when she convinces Nellie to sneak out for a turn-of-the-century sleepover in the boathouse, or when she nobly tries to rescue the three sisters from a grim orphanage.
The film also provides an interesting history lesson about this era by incorporating elements such as the opening of New York City's subway system and even the advent of bathroom showers. The movie has a strong social conscience, as well, evident in how Cornelia is portrayed as a suffragette working for a woman's right to vote, or how a sweatshop is depicted as a harsh environment that abuses the child-laborers it employs. Samantha becomes a "crusader" in her own right, organizing a coat drive for orphans and speaking out about the negative aspects of industrialization in a climactic speech contest.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Samantha demonstrates concern for those who are less fortunate and how her efforts occasionally go awry. For instance, although her rescue of the orphans is well intentioned, what might have been a better way to handle it? Also, was it wise for her to wander the streets of New York alone to find Nellie in the factory?
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