We've seen bad movies culled from comic books, TV shows and video games. What are the chances that a good one can be inspired by a book that has its own doll?
Better than you might think judging by Kit Kittredge: An American Girl, a refreshingly old-fashioned entertainment proving Hollywood actually can make movies like it used to.
The American Girl line of dolls and books is as popular among girls as Sex and the City is for their mothers, for similar reasons. Both portray feminist fantasies in situations beyond their respective audiences' reach, due either to money and status or, in Kit's case, the passage of time.
Although set 70 years ago during the Great Depression, Kit Kittredge: An American Girl, which opens in theaters Wednesday, nearly feels as contemporary as Carrie Bradshaw's wardrobe. We can thank the current economic climate for that. Young Kit (Abigail Breslin) hears the same discussions of unemployment, foreclosures and the homeless that children hear today.
Yet she maintains a sunny disposition through it all, never losing faith in her dream (becoming a newspaper reporter) or her family and friends. Patricia Rozema's movie is for children wiser than filmmakers typically believe kids are, making it a treat for grown-ups as well.
Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine) is adorably understated as Kit, an ambitious moppet enjoying everything about life before television. She spends summer days with friends in a tree house where loyalty oaths mean everything. Or she's writing stories in hopes of impressing the local publisher (Wallace Shawn).
Kit's father (Chris O'Donnell) must leave home for Chicago to find work. That leaves her mother (Julia Ormond) renting rooms to eccentric boarders. Kit sacrifices with a smile, while learning that others — "hoboes," in the era's vernacular — are much worse off.
Themes of intolerance and parental separation are constant distractions while Kit focuses on a Nancy Drew-style mystery, the disappearance of valuables from her home's safe. Hoboes are immediately blamed. Kit suspects someone else, following the trail through soup kitchens, parlor chats and other situations that G-rated films rarely cover.
Rozema isn't ashamed of appearing corny in her pursuit of nostalgic authenticity. Everything about her movie — perfect period designs, grandiose emoting, squeaky clean gentility — seems to have arrived through a time warp. We almost hope for something juicier to happen, except that wouldn't ring true.
"Juicy" is what G-rated films have conditioned viewers to expect, either in themes or technology. Kit Kittredge: An American Girl contains none of that and still satisfies. There's a lot to admire about a movie so stubbornly uplifting.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at blogs.tampabay.com/movies.