by Michelle Erica Green

This review originally appeared on the now-defunct site FamilyWonder.com, which showcased children's entertainment for parents and caregivers.

Grade: A-
Year: Warner, 1997
Running Time: 1 hour 37 minutes

Video Summary:
Sara Crewe's father always told her that all girls are princesses, but when he appears to have died penniless, she almost stops believing. After a glorious childhood in India, Sara is sent to boarding school in New York City while her father goes to fight in the war. Admired by the students for her intelligence and creativity, Sara is nonetheless disliked by rigid, pompous headmistress Miss Minchin, who doesnít approve of the girls speaking to servants or indulging in fantasy.

When Sara's father is lost in the war, she suddenly finds herself a destitute orphan. Forbidden to speak to her former classmates, she lives in drudgery in the attic, though she remains kind and charitable. But a mysterious Indian man next door watches over her, and soon Sara begins to believe again in a magic that can change peopleís fortunes. She becomes reunited with her father, and he takes her and the servant girl Becky away from the school.

Best For Ages:
6-8: The real-life war and make-believe Indian myth might scare some younger children in this group.

9-12: Preteens are an ideal audience for this magical tale of a well-mannered rebel.

13 & up: Teens and adults who remember the classic children's book will applaud this updated, beautifully filmed version.

Parental Advisory:
Educational Value: The depiction of New York during World War I is realistic, though Sara's Indian childhood home is sentimentalized. Bilingual Sara speaks articulately, but kindness and exuberance serve her better than formal education.

Entertainment Value: Lush visuals and a lovely score enhance this riches-to-rags tale. The movie effectively parallels Sara's version of an Indian legend with her fatherís wartime experiences.

Violence: In a story, a scary mythological beast imprisons a princess in a tower and threatens her lover. In real life, Sara's father is horribly wounded in the war.

Emotional Intensity: Captain Crewe is unable to save a friend in battle. Sara believes her father has died. Teachers verbally abuse students.

Frightening Situations: Miss Minchin threatens to throw Sara out into the street, then calls the police to have her arrested for stealing. There's a war scene with explosions, fallen bodies, and a man is shown succumbing to poison gas. Sara walks across a flimsy board and almost falls.

Questionable Behavior: Children engage in pranks and break into the headmistressí office.

Gender/Racial Issues: Snobby girls insult schoolmates and express prejudice towards an African American servant.

Mature Themes: Loss of parents. Living in extreme poverty. Despair leading to hopelessness.

Beautifully filmed and acted, A LITTLE PRINCESS remains mostly true to the spirit of Francis Hodgson Burnett's children's classic, although itís set in America rather than England and Sara finds her father alive in this version. The heroine looks more like a golden angel than the dark-haired bookworm of the novel, but she's more appealing than syrupy Shirley Temple in the 1939 adaptation THE LITTLE PRINCESS.

This movie borrows the best innovations of the previous one while dropping its excesses, like the long fantasy sequence in which Templeís Sara envisions herself an actual princess. Here, the child is told by her father that all girls are princesses, so she tries to act like one by helping the poor and showing affection to the needy, not putting on airs.

Young star Liesel Matthews is charming and restrained, making it easy to like Sara even at her most pampered. Because she doesnít break into silly little dances like Shirley Temple, viewers will take her more seriously. Children will cheer for this strong character, and will loudly jeer the despicable Miss Minchin.

This Sara fantasizes about Indian princesses and legendary heroes, depicted in scenes which echo her father's experiences in the war. The movie makes the horrors of battle accessible for young children without frightening them. Three- and six-year-old boys who often resist movies about heroic girls were transfixed by this one.

Fans of this movie might enjoy the recent adaptation, by the same filmmakers, of Burnett's THE SECRET GARDEN, as well as EVER AFTER: A CINDERELLA STORY, an imaginative retelling of the fairy tale.

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