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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Secret Garden is a 1993 coming-of-age drama about a spoiled tween orphan who finds peace and purpose when she discovers a long-abandoned secret garden. It's based on the novel first published in 1911. Many kids will be drawn into the mystery of the garden and the strange crying in the house, yet be aware that this is a sedate story and may bore kids used to action-packed films. The lead character, Mary, witnesses her parents in the midst of an earthquake that leads to their deaths. While on the ship that takes her from India to England, Mary endures shunning and mild name-calling. Other main characters struggle with the grieving process. A young bedridden boy is obsessed with illness and death. The head housekeeper slaps one of the maids in the face. While Mary acts like a spoiled brat early in the movie, as she grows up, she begins to demonstrate curiosity and compassion.
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- Kids say
What's the story?
When her parents die, spoiled Mary Lennox (Kate Maberly) is sent from India to England to live with her uncle Archibald Craven, a mysterious and lonely man. He's rarely home, leaving Mary to the care of housekeeper Mrs. Medlock (Maggie Smith). One day, Mary finds the key to THE SECRET GARDEN, once the favorite place for her uncle and his wife, whom he adored. After she died, he locked it up and swore no one would go in there again. Mary decides to find the garden, but first she investigates the crying she often hears in the night and discovers her uncle's son, Colin (Heydon Prowse). He has been confined to bed all his life and is incredibly spoiled. Mary soothes him by telling him about the garden. Later, when he has a tantrum, she's the first person ever to set limits on his behavior. Mary finds the garden, and she and Colin and the maid's brother Dickon bring it back to life. As they do, Mary and Colin get stronger in body and in spirit. When Archibald returns, he meets them in the garden. They run to him, and it's clear that the garden will heal him, too.
Is it any good?
This is a fine adaptation of the beloved children's book. Children respond to Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden because (at least in the beginning) she is so unlikable, a relief from all the Pollyannas and Cinderellas who are rewarded for their relentlessly sunny characters and good deeds. And then there is the pleasure of meeting Colin, who is even worse, a "young rajah" who has had his every wish granted instantly and is surrounded only by those who live in terror of his hysteria.
Mary and Colin are a perfect match for each other, and the scene in which she responds to his tantrum with fury is especially moving, as is the scene in which they enter the garden together, a wonderful metaphor for all that is going on inside their spirits.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how The Secret Garden compares to the book, and how Mary changes through the course of the story.
Why do you think both Mary and Colin were so spoiled when we first meet them, and what caused them to change into more caring children by the end of the film?
- In theaters: August 13, 1993
- On DVD or streaming: January 1, 2000
- Cast: Heydon Prowse, Kate Maberly, Maggie Smith
- Director: Agnieszka Holland
- Studio: Warner Bros.
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Book Characters, Friendship, Great Boy Role Models, Great Girl Role Models
- Character strengths: Communication, Compassion, Curiosity, Perseverance, Teamwork
- Run time: 101 minutes
- MPAA rating: G
- Last updated: April 27, 2020
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