Kit Kittredge: An American Girl is a charming, wholesome, old-fashioned story celebrating perseverance amid misfortune, humility and courage in the face of diminished circumstances, and solidarity with social outcasts and others less fortunate. That it represents the world of a high-end merchandising phenomenon that includes $90 dolls, $25 toy outfits and much more is ironic, but the story stands on its own, as it should.
The movie is best when it sticks to the basics: a girl coping with her father’s loss of work, the possibility of losing their home, her father seeking employment in another state, taking in boarders and other troubling developments. Appealing players including Julia Ormond and Chris O’Donnell as Kit’s loving, good-hearted parents help, and ’tween actress Abigail Breslin is refreshingly genuine and engaging as spunky Kit.
Others, including Joan Cusack and Jane Krakowski as goofy boarders, seem to be in a different movie entirely — and in the last act Kit Kittredge actually becomes that other movie, a goofy comedy-mystery in which Kit foils bumbling thieves.
Still, Kit Kittredge is uplifting entertainment for any American girl young enough for a G-rated movie where the protagonist wants to be a reporter rather than get a makeover, become a pop princess or get the cute boy.
Like their equally revisionistic 2005 action-movie adaptation Around the World in 80 Days starring Jackie Chan (!), also based on a Jules Verne novel, Walden Media’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, starring Brendan Fraser, doesn’t even pretend to be anything like a faithful adaptation of the source material.
And you know what? That’s not the worst thing in the world. This Journey is a hoot, blending elements of Jurassic Park, National Treasure, Nim’s Island and other cheesy cliffhangers in a PG action-adventure tale that’s almost as much fun as it is stupid.
Instead of revisiting the original novel’s plot, Journey takes place in a present-day setting in which Verne’s novel is regarded by “Vernian” devotees as a guide to hidden truth.
The story and the science make no sense at all: The underground world the heroes explore seems to be populated entirely by predators who would seem to have little to eat in the absence of intrepid human explorers, and one deathtrap after another seems to be waiting for them in a world where nothing has ever happened before our heroes came along.
But scenes like Fraser going mano-a-mano with a man-eating cousin to the Venus flytrap and his nephew Josh Hutcherson riding a gauntlet of iron-ore rocks inexplicably suspended on a magnetic field are worthwhile additions to the world of Saturday matinee redux.
CONTENT ADVISORY: Journey to the Center of the Earth: Intense action menace. Too much for younger kids. Kit Kittredge: An American Girl: Nothing objectionable.