Making the Grades
Ludwig Bemelman's adorable Madeline isn't shy of the movie screen. Having been portrayed during the 1950's in animated shorts and more recently in a 1998 live-action film, it's now Madeline's turn to get the Disney treatment in this, her first full-length animated feature.
The story begins with the usual rhyme about 12 girls and a house covered in vines. But the one girl that's especially loved by all is the little orphan, Madeline (Andrea Libman). Living with her friends in a boarding school under the watchful care of Miss Clavel (Stephanie Louise Vallance), Madeline yearns for a family of her own. Coincidentally, a letter arrives for Madeline. It's from Uncle Horst (Jason Alexander) of Vienna and states that he is now Madeline's legal guardian and that he plans to arrive in Paris to claim his niece - and her inheritance.
Unfortunately, dear sweet Miss Clavel hasn't watched enough television to recognize that Uncle Horst is actually a thug working for the evil Miss La Crouqe (Lauren Bacall), a former professional dancer who decided to get ugly after ripping her nylon stockings while doing a can-can... (honest... that's what the story says!). Madeline is taken to a dark basement in a poor part of Paris where she and a handful of other orphan girls are forced by La Croque to make lace. However, Madeline's optimism is still strong, so she rallies the strengths of the other girls to work their way out of La Croque's cellar.
La Croque plays the typical Disney villian: She's all bad and has little reason for being so bitter, leaving the film devoid of the charm and subtle humor found in earlier animated Madeline shorts and the live action Columbia feature from last year.
Although this Madeline will probably fall within the standards of most families, some young viewers may find La Croque's use of food deprivation and threats of cutting off the children's hair frightening. You may want to search for the Columbia version or even better, head to the library and discover the real Madeline.