Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Little Princess

Alfonso Cuarón, 1995 (9*)
Sometimes you get one of those little unexpected gems of a movie, and you ask where the heck did that come from? This wonderful and magical children’s film came from a novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett and has the look and feel of a 50’s Disney film that adapted a Victorian novel. The story is a about a little girl named Sara, whose dad tells her all little girls are princesses. They move from India to New York, so she can attend the same private school for girls her late mom once attended, as her father goes off to World War I for England. Eleanor Bron is perfect as the strict headmistress of the school, Miss Mitlin, not allowing the girls to speak a word during meals or really enjoy any portion of childhood. Much of this movie works because the kids are all excellent actors, especially newcomer Liesel Matthews as Sara.

The story evolves into one of class barriers, when Sara befriends an African-American servant and they later become best friends. She also becomes friends with the chubby girl with glasses that's shunned by everyone including the teachers. Sara dazzles the girls with fairy tales of her own invention and is able to transport herself and those around her into a more magical place, in spite of Miss Mitlin ire. The special effects of the fairy tale of an Indian princess and Rama coming to her rescue have a beautiful storybook feel, as they should, coming from the mind of a young girl, and in one brilliant sequence Rama’s arrows emit a yellow gas as we are shown Sara’s father in the trenches fighting poisonous gas himself.

There are a couple of plot twists that I won’t reveal, only to say that the story seems to evolve perfectly into the final conclusion, and you find yourself wishing there was a sequel. This is one of the best serious children’s stories, made better by excellent music from Patrick Doyle, which always seemed to be perfect but without distracing. Director Alfonso Cuarón showed a nice sensitivity to the literary touch here, and later made some big films: Y Tu Mama Tambien, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and Children of Men; all of these are worth seeing, yet they're all so different as well.

They need to make more intelligent family films like this, it’s becoming a rarity in the age of instant musical divas, characters ready for simultaneous video game and toy spinoffs, when the major media companies don’t seem to be interested in just good films, they want a blockbuster enterprise. Oscar® nominations for cinematography and art direction.


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These are the individual film reviews of what I'm considering the best 1000 dvds available, whether they are films, miniseries, or live concerts. Rather than rush out all 1000 at once, I'm doing them over time to allow inclusion of new releases - in fact, 2008 has the most of any year so far, 30 titles in all; that was a very good year for films, one of the best ever.

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