Kit Kittredge: An American Girl
You've probably seen American Girl stores at your mall but, in case you're not familiar with the toy line, the company produces dolls with identities and accompanying storylines that help explain critical moments in American history from the young girl's point of view. Three American Girl television movies have been released over the past couple of years, but Kit Kittredge: An American Girl, starring a sparkling Abigail Breslin, marks the series' first adventure on the big screen.
Young Kit lives a privileged life in Cincinnati during the Great Depression; her mother (Julia Ormond) lunches with frilly women, her father (Chris O'Donnell) owns a car dealership, and her brother is off building a new life thanks to Roosevelt's New Deal. Her greatest worry in life is whether or not the editor of the local paper will ever give the 10-year-old her big break as a journalist by publishing one of her articles. For a G-rated family movie, there's a good deal of subtle socio-economic drama going on here, and it eventually hits Kit at home when her father's business has to shut its doors and he's forced to head to Chicago in search of work. To make ends meet, Kit's mother opens the house to an eclectic array of boarders, including husband-hunting hussy Miss Dooley (Jane Krakowski), mobile librarian Miss Bond (Joan Cusack), and magician Mr. Berk (Stanley Tucci). As the situation worsens, Kit's family is even driven to roosting chickens and selling their eggs, the ultimate disgrace in the local community.
In such hard times, people look for somebody to focus their anger on and, here, the "hoboes" that decent folk think are draining the system become the villains. And why not? Hoboes have mugged and attacked these decent folk all over the region. Kit's mother isn't of such a mind, and shows great kindness to two hobo children, Will (Max Thieriot) and Countee (Willow Smith). Before long, Kit is being enlightened to the real plight of the hobo, no different really than the one her family is enduring. Rather than romanticize the social tragedy, the movie opts to treat it with a maturity that, again, feels out of place--and therefore unexpectedly welcome--in a G-rated movie. When the hidden lock box holding all of Kit's mother's money and the valuables of the boarders vanishes, however, the story takes an out-of-nowhere shortcut through a Nancy Drew novel as Kit must deduce who the real "hobo" culprits are to prove her new friends innocent. Kit Kittredge might lack focus and never figures out what sort of movie it wants to be, but it does respect children's intelligence, asks them to value their national history, and delivers a standard of morality families everywhere should be glad to have their youngest emulate.