I grew up reading the American Girls Collection and playing with the dolls. Therefore, even though I was an adult when this movie came out, I had to see it and am glad I did. Little AnnaSophia Robb perfectly captures the spirit of Samantha, an independent girl with a huge heart and high hopes for the future. Samantha balances strong feelings and new ideas with love and respect for her family. She is no respecter of class systems, befriending a servant girl named Nellie and reaching out to help Nellie's family at personal risk. Samantha is an orphan, but her parental substitutes--a grandmother, uncle, and aunt--are all positive role models for her. Uncle Gard and Aunt Cornelia embrace values that were liberal for the 1904 setting and might be considered unrealistic, but in doing so, they drive home valuable lessons about how to treat others and respond to differences of opinion.
There are some minor caveats. Grandmary has a more traditional 1904 viewpoint that may be offensive or confusing to young viewers. On a clearer note, the maltreatment of children working in a factory is shown. At one point, Nellie and her little sisters are sent to an orphanage, where they are separated and treated like prisoners. The orphanage matron is cruel and misappropriates donations for her own use. Samantha is sometimes disobedient toward adults; while this makes sense in context, it bears discussing.