Seeking to break into the all boys club of summer movies, Kit Kittredge manages to show us what real girl power is.
Based on the popular American Girl series of dolls and books (which can run up to $100), Kit finally makes it to the big screen. Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine) plays the heroine, a spunky ten-year-old would-be reporter who lives in Depression era Cincinnati. Kit's middle class utopia of tree house club meetings and finger sandwiches is quickly brought to a halt when her dad (Chris O'Donnell) loses his car dealership. Dad decides to seek out work in another state leaving Kit and her mom (Julia Ormond) to fend for themselves.
In order to save money (and to Kit's initial chagrin), Mrs. Kittredge does everything from plant vegetables, sell eggs, sew dresses and even (gasp) move in borders. These colorful tenants include such characters as Miss Bond (Joan Cusack), a bookmobile owner to the traveling magician Jefferson Berk (Stanley Tucci). When friendly hobos are accused of robbing homes in the Kittridge neighborhood, Kit and her sidekicks try to solve the mystery.
Breslin is downright adorable as a pint-sized Nancy Drew. Playing spunky without being obnoxious is easier said than done, but she pulls it off big time. Abigail is refreshing as a kid who actually loves being...a kid, flaws and all. She's equally endearing when she writes a letter to her near-absentee dad as she is when she's adamant in proving the hobos innocence.
Director Patricia Rozema paints a colorful picture of 1930's middle class Cincinnati. More Norman Rockwell than Steinbeck, Rozema's Depression is seen more as a time to tighten belts than to jump out of buildings. It may seem a little whitewashed with a hobo village seen almost as a cool place to hang out, but this is a kid’s movie, after all. From the floral prints of the women’s dresses to the sunlit newsroom that Kit aspires to work at, Rozema definitely believed in attention to detail.
Julia Ormond brings a subtle strength as Kit's mom. She keeps a brave face despite missing her husband and serves as both mom and dad while O'Donnell's away. When Kit starts to whine about the family's finances, she quickly puts Kit in check. While O'Donnell is only in the movie for about 10 minutes, he comes across as pretty earnest as Kit's dad and provides a heartwarming scene at the end.
Watching the Depression through Kittredge's eyes will make adults cringe a little with the current housing crisis, but even kid movies are allowed to make us think a little. Kit's wide-eyed optimism helps carry the themes of tolerance and hope, something we could all use a little more of. Little girls can be proud to associate with the smart and adorable Breslin and maybe little boys can learn a thing or two as well.
Kit Kittredge: An American Girl." MPAA rating: G. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Billy Tatum gives Kit Kittredge 4 and a half scoops (out of five).