Kit Kittredge: An American Girl
Kit Kittredge is real. Never mind that she's actually "just" a $90 doll sold online and in select cities at American Girl stores. To millions of little girls in America, she's very, very real.
That means Kit Kittredge: An American Girl is not a movie about a doll. It's a movie about a girl growing up in the 1930s, based on a series of historical fiction stories published by the American Girl company to accessorize, if you will, the Kit Kittredge doll.
Kit's placid, semi-pampered life hits a roadblock when her dad loses his car dealership to the bank. Nobody buys cars when they can't afford food. So Dad decides to leave Cincinnati to look for work in Chicago. Mom and Kit turn their quiet home into a boarding house to make ends meet. And that's when things get not only noisy, but colorful, too.
Boarders include Miss Dooley, a dreamy dance instructor looking for a good husband; the timid Mrs. Howard and her son, Stirling, who've been unofficially abandoned by Mr. Howard; Miss Bond, a ditzy mobile librarian; and Mr. Jefferson J. Berk, magician extraordinaire. Along for the adventure are an abandoned dog and a ... pet monkey. See what I mean by things getting loud?
The tale turns on the interaction of these boarders and a teenage hobo named Will. Will and his little buddy, Countee, work around the yard and house for their food, and gradually become part of the family. Then a string of robberies brings further chaos and accusations to the town—and the Kittredge house.
Obviously, it's the hoboes' fault. Specifically, it's Will's fault. All the grown-ups think so, even the police. But Kit can't believe Will would do such a thing. So she puts all of her investigative journalism skills to work to solve the case. (She wants to write for the Cincinnati Register when she grows up—strike that, she wants to write for the Cincinnati Register right now!) Enlisting the aid of Stirling and her best friend, Ruthie, she interviews victims, digs around for clues and maps out the possibilities in an attempt to ID the real culprits.
It's terribly important to Kit that she solve the case and get back her mom's money, because if she doesn't, they'll lose their house and maybe their family. Family unity is a huge deal to Kit—and this movie. When her dad tells her he can't find work in Ohio and must go to Chicago for a while, Kit cries, "You said we were going to be OK. We're not OK if we're not together!" Indeed, it's not OK until Dad comes back home.
Beyond that tightly held ideal, Kit Kittredge: An American Girl offers up classy instruction on how to get along with others at school and the damage done by stereotyping and prejudice. It takes a good look at economic class divisions. And it lauds the biblical value of helping the poor.
Without pointing fingers, the whole first act gently teaches young moviegoers that the amount of money you spend never defines the kind of character you develop. Hoboes aren't always thieves. And comfortable suburbanites aren't always snobs. "There are good hoboes and bad ones, just like with apples ... and editors," Kit firmly tells the Register's editor when he refuses to publish an article she's written about the good people she's met among the hoboes. Meanwhile, a trip to a soup kitchen and a plug for volunteerism by Kit's schoolteacher reveal, possibly for the first time to some kids, that communities should be built around the idea of helping others.
Kit struggles with embarrassment and shame when she and her family join the ranks of those who have to raise chickens and sell eggs to make ends meet. But by film's end, she's come fully to grips with her situation, and has found lots of ways to make sweet lemonade out of the sour lemons the economy has handed her and her neighbors. Tempted to gripe and complain, Kit makes a conscious choice to count her blessings while holding her tongue—and her typewriter ribbon.
Kit's relationship with her mom and dad is loving and relaxed. It's clear that everybody feels wanted and accepted. Mom leads by example, working hard to keep the ship on course when Dad's away. And she bucks the peer pressure of her social circle by not only hiring Will and Countee, but welcoming them and their friends into her home.
For his part, Dad becomes an object lesson in never giving up when times get tough. "Don't let it beat you," he tells Kit. "We can't let it beat us, sweetheart." Then he takes his own advice.
As the film winds down, a character, whom I shall leave nameless here, makes a choice to get off the broad path and start walking on the narrow one. And in that decision we see that it's never too late to do the right thing.
Kit demonstrates what it looks like to properly stand up to an adult who's grouchy and uncaring when she challenges the newspaper's editor to actually read her story instead of dismissing it just because she's a kid. Self-confidence and persistence win the day in the end for her. At school, mean-spirited teasing is shown to be hurtful and also small-minded.
Miss Bond dispenses books with abandon, encouraging everyone to dive into their stories. Because of her, and with help from Stirling, Countee learns how to read.
Will devotedly looks after the orphaned Countee. Rather than think of Countee as a burden, Will thanks "the good Lord" for the privilege.
A veiled reference made by the magician Berk to levitating a woman carries with it a hint of sexual innuendo.
The thieves chase the children through the woods, finally trapping them in the hobo camp. There's a brief scuffle and then someone clangs the flat part of a shovel against a baddie's head. That dissuades any further confrontation.
Crude or Profane Language
A "darn," a "holy cow," a "golly" and three exclamations of "oh my gosh." Name-calling is limited to one "moron" and accusations of "good for nothing" and "freeloader."
Drug and Alcohol Content
During Thanksgiving dinner, adults raise their glasses in a toast, and Miss Dooley invites the newspaper editor in for drinks. He asks what kind are being prepared, but we don't see them drinking.
Other Negative Elements
While the overall tone asserts that stealing not only injures innocent people but is morally wrong, one key—unrefuted—conversation revolves around Robin Hood and the idea of taking from the rich to give to the poor. Will asks another hobo if he thinks that's a good practice. The answer is yes. And Will agrees.
In a classic heart's-in-the-right-place misstep, Stirling—desperate to cheer up his mom—forges a letter from his dad, tricking her into thinking her husband might be coming back home after all.
Kit and Ruthie sneak into a boarder's room and rifle personal belongings while looking for the stolen money. Worse, the 10-year-old Kit stows away in a car she's sure belongs to the thieves.
The American Girl company says it has sold more than 120 million American Girl books and nearly 15 million American Girl dolls since 1986. Three movies have already been made about American Girl dolls, er, girls: Samantha, Felicity and Molly. The first to arrive in theaters is Kit.
Those statistics mean there's nothing about the adventures of Kit Kittredge that is new to millions of girls around the country who have already embraced her as a dear friend in their imaginations, playtime and reading time. My daughter is 7, almost 8 (she'd want you to know that last part), and I see firsthand every day how wondrous it is for her to act out what's in her imagination with her dolls—and how interested she is in reading stories (and being read stories) about girls just like her who just happened to grow up in, say, the 1930s.
A little bit Apple Dumpling Gang, a little bit Nancy Drew, Kit Kittredge, to my great relief and delight, allows my little girl to see something fun and stimulating—both socially and morally—without her being coaxed out of the innocence her mother and I try to preserve for her. That's unusual in a day and age when even G-rated films designed for kids can focus on either "gateway humor"—jokes and gags that aren't that bad but still can't be repeated at the dinner table—or stomachache-inducing follow-your-heart sugar.
Director Patricia Rozema adds to that thought with her take on Kit: "I loved Kit, this little reporter who wants to write, who wants to express herself, who wants to do good. So many kids' movies are about, 'Oh, I can have love, I am a princess. I own the world now.' There aren't many that show kids and adults trying to hang on when material goods aren't flowing their way, and showing that what's valuable is not material."
She's right. And she's created an adventure that teaches our admittedly semi-pampered kids that their value doesn’t lie in how big their house is, how many new dresses they get to buy for a new year of school, or even how many American Girl dolls they have stacked in their pretty, pink bedrooms.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Abigail Breslin as Kit Kittredge; Julia Ormond as Mrs. Kittredge; Chris O'Donnell as Mr. Kittredge; Stanley Tucci as Jefferson J. Berk; Joan Cusack as Miss Bond; Max Thieriot as Will; Zach Mills as Stirling Howard; Glenne Headly as Mrs. Howard; Jane Krakowski as Miss Dooley; Willow Smith as Countee; Madison Davenport as Ruthie Smithens
Patricia Rozema ( )