When it comes to movies based on a line of dolls, "Kit Kittredge: An American Girl" is light-years away from the ultra-commercialized vapidity of "Bratz: The Movie."
This sweetly enjoyable family film stars the endearing Abigail Breslin as Kit. And, refreshingly, it's actually about something -- the Great Depression -- and tackles such serious issues as prejudice, poverty and homelessness.
But even as serious topics are interspersed throughout the story, the film manages to be light and charming but never didactic. Much of the credit goes to the casting. Breslin is a bona-fide talent, whether warming our hearts as a bespectacled pageant participant in "Little Miss Sunshine" or winning our admiration as the plucky Kit, a wannabe reporter. Stanley Tucci, Joan Cusack and Jane Krakowski bring dramatic heft to a tale that could have been paper-thin.
Based on the series of "American Girl" stories by Valerie Tripp, Kit is resourceful, inquisitive and compassionate. Her sunny childhood takes a sudden turn, compelling her to learn valuable lessons.
It's 1934 and the Depression is clamping down on everyone in Kit's hometown, Cincinnati. Her father (Chris O'Donnell) loses his car dealership and is forced to leave town to look for work. Kit and her mother (Julia Ormond) are forced to take in boarders and sell eggs to make ends meet. The boarders include an eccentric librarian (Cusack), a magician (Tucci) and a husband-hunting dance instructor (Krakowski).
Kit befriends the boarders, as well as a pair of orphaned boys who make their home in the "hobo jungle" on the outskirts of the city. When one of the boys is implicated in a string of robberies, Kit becomes almost a junior Nancy Drew in her determination to solve the mystery of the stolen goods.
She also dreams of being a journalist and marches into the office of a newspaper editor (Wallace Shawn), presenting her articles on a child's view of the Depression and the hobo camp.
Though predictable and unabashedly sentimental, the film is a warmly appealing tale of a bright girl bravely navigating tough times.
What a pleasure to watch a movie aimed at girls that forgoes the requisite fashion modeling/shopping montage. Parents will find an enjoyable summer movie minus the materialistic kids and bathroom humor that too often make their way into family films.