Making the Grades
It's the early 1900's, and Liesel Matthews plays Sara Crewe, the daughter of a wealthy British businessman. Her father leaves for the war, and she is left under the cold stare of Headmistress Minchin, the owner of a girls' school, who can only tolerate Sara's popularity and optimism by remembering the money the girl contributes to her purse.
Sara's most distinguishing trait is her dedication to the idea that all girls--old and young, rich or poor--are princesses. She does her best to share this doctrine with her schoolmates, along with Becky, a dark-skinned servant girl who is banished to the attic. Yet Sara's cheery attitude gives Miss Minchin all the more reason to delight in sending her to live in the attic with Becky when the news of her father's death arrives and her family's assets are seized.
In the midst of her trials Sara often finds comfort by retreating into a world of imaginary fairy tales from India, the country where she and her father lived before she came to the New York boarding school. (These sequences may be a little frightening for very young viewers.) When she discovers sharing her stories also helps other lonely students, her true selfless nature shines. Much to the chagrin of Miss Mitchin, Sara proves that being a princess has more to do with moral fiber than circumstances.
The beautiful cinematography of this film skilfully contrasts warm and cold colors to emphasise the changing moods. But I was disappointed when the scriptwriters chose to force this wonderful story to fit the Hollywood mold, which demands (especially from children's movies) simple good and bad guy characters, a happy ending, and revenge. Miss Minchin's retribution is neither believable nor necessary, and the inclusion of this one tiny scene is like a flaw in an otherwise diamond of a film.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about A Little Princess.
How did Sara’s attitude about her difficult living conditions help to make the situation more bearable? Likewise, how does Miss Minchin’s attitude contribute to her unhappiness even though her circumstances are good?
The conclusion of this movie harks back to the days of the Hays Production Code (see Ratings Under Pressure in our Big Picture section). Introduced during the 1930’s but replaced with the current rating system in the late 60’s, the code insisted that the bad guy meet with his just rewards. Could Miss Minchin have learned her lesson any other way?
If your family enjoys A Little Princess, look in your library for the Frances Hodgson Burnett book that the movie was based upon. Your children will be amazed at how much can change between a novel and a screenplay.