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A Little Princess

Director Alfonso Cuarón's 1995 film version of the classic story.

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"All Women are Princessess. It is Our Right."

  • Apr 18, 2011
Captain Crewe is returning to active duty in Her Majesty's armed forces during the WWI. Sara Crewe, his beloved motherless child, must leave behind the only life she has ever known in the mystical land of India, and forge her way at Ms. Minchin's boarding school. The clever, naturally charming and optimistic child appears to be a thorn in bitter Minchin's side from the first moments of their meeting.

The boarding school is a gray world of enforced conformity that demands blind unquestioning obedience. Minchin is only teaching these young ladies the ways of the world when she promotes social superiority based on family income. Surely, she is also only building character when she belittles timid students in front of the class, ridiculing them for everything from their appearance to their academic failures.

Minchin makes efforts to treat Sara with at least a minimum of respect though. At least, as long as the money for her board and keep continues to roll in. When Captain Crewe goes missing and is presumed dead, Sara's circumstances go from challenging to dire. Can she continue to believe in herself and hold onto her inner majesty despite her new life as "the demon Minchinweed's" charity orphan and lowliest servant?

"I am a princess. All girls are. Even if they live in tiny old attics. Even if they dress in rags, even if they aren't pretty, or smart, or young. They're still princesses. All of us. Didn't your father ever tell you that? " ~ Sara

~~~~~~~~~~~ My Thoughts ~~~~~~~~~~~~

I will always love the rendition with Shirley Temple, and while I regret that they did not work in the sweet dream sequence from that version, I must say that this 1995 remake is enchanting and delightfully inspiring. There is a wonderfully serene empowering strength and vibrant wisdom here that the earlier version doesn't quite capture. I found it interesting that they chose to cast Vanessa Lee Chester as the supporting role of Becky the servant girl. I think the use of race as a social separation works well here, and gives viewers a framework they can understand in this modern era nearly devoid of a servant class so common to the era in which the tale takes place. Miss Chester did a wonderful job of portraying this staunch friend, a young girl who has been forced to give up any semblance of childhood.

Liesel Matthews as Sara is sweet inspiring with the natural grace of a loving and confident child. She enchants the girls at Minchin's (Eleanor Bron) within a day of her arrival, all except the horridly spoiled ringleader. The self important Lavinia is Minchin's pet, of course. Every compassionate statement or innocent inquiry from Sara seems only to fuel Minchin's bitterness and angry resentment. Every time she looks at Sara, it is as if she can see who she herself might have been under other circumstances or if she had made different choices along her lifepath... an infuriating reminder that she is slowly killing herself with her own poisonous behavior. Sara's belief that all women are princesses and should live accordingly seems to enrange the tyrannical headmistress, making her determined to do everything in her power to crush Sara's individuality and self-confidence.

Her sister, Amelia Minchin (Rusty Schwimmer), has taken the place of the sympathetic teacher with the love interest in the version. She delivers a solid supporting role and lovely light comedic moments. Liam Cunningham gives us an interesting portrayal of two roles, Captain Crewe, who goes through several transformations as the story unfolds, and Prince Rama.

Sara's tales to the girls are drawn from the Indian poetic epic Ramayana. She mesmerizes them, awakening their imaginations and transports them out of their gray world into the lush and adventurous world of Rama and Sita. The trials of Rama and his beloved wife encourage them to face the very real day to day trials they each face under the rule of the venomous "demon Minchinweed". We are presented with a convincing artful depiction of this Prince, an example of masculine virtues and pulchritude. The scenes depicting Rama and Sita have an ethereal beauty that supports the overall feel of this remake very well. This version tastes far more of exotic India than Temple's version, giving us something entirely new while still respecting the original.

The sympathetic neighbors, Mr. Randolph and his servant Ram Dass, help to create a more believable storyline than the 1939 film. They also provide the necessary support for Sara to reach beyond Minchin's acrimonious control and evoke miracles. Minchin herself perfectly exemplifies the inward collapsing spiral of the destructive attitude of one who would rather jealously crush the inspiration out of other souls than be inspired to also live each day as an inspiration to others. Sadly, there are far too many Minchinweeds in our lovely garden. The transformation of Sara's barren hovel of a room into a cozy palatial splendor befitting of this young princess still takes my breath away with delight. As does the steadfast friendship between Becky and Sara. There is much here to delight and be-spell audiences of all ages in this bewitching tale of self worth, compassion, love and honor. In just 97 minutes we are awakened to our right to the divine splendor within each of us, and encouraged to use it to inspire others.

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April 24, 2011
I love this film! This was the film that introduced me to Alfonso Cuaron and is to this day my favorite adaptation of this story. Wonderful review.
April 18, 2011
LOve the review!! totally enthralling! I am not at all surprised that this is more believable than the 1939 film and thank you for sharing, Quinn!
April 18, 2011
So much of Shirley Temple's work is all about fantasy, and fantasy from a more innocent era to boot. She was very good at what they gave her to do, and I still enjoy a lot of those bygone films. But this is one remake I will be watching again and again with the same kind of childish (in the best sense) glee :o) Glad you enjoyed the review, thanks for commenting!
About the reviewer
Quinn Blackburn ()
Ranked #48
Hello, my name is Quinn. :o) I also answer to Mom, YaYa, and occasionally Entwife. I enjoy Beauty wherever I find it... Nature, Music, Art in all its forms... I believe these to be true and sacred things … more
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A Little Princess is a 1995 American children's film directed by Alfonso Cuarón, starring Liesel Matthews, Eleanor Bron, Liam Cunningham, and Vanessa Lee Chester. Set during World War I, it focuses on a young girl who is relegated to a life of servitude in a New York City boarding school by the headmistress after receiving news that her father was killed in combat. Loosely based upon the novel A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, this adaptation was heavily influenced by the 1939 cinematic version and took great creative liberties with the original story. Various differences occur between the original source material and the setting and screenplay of this film.

Due to poor promotion by its distributor, the film hardly made back half its budget. However, the film was critically acclaimed and given various recognition for its significant achievements in art direction and cinematography, among other aspects of its production.

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