Plot: Sara Crewe is brought to Miss Minchin’s boarding school by her adored father, and promises to be “a good soldier” and be brave about staying there without him. She is the brightest girl in the school, with exquisite manners, but her odd fancies and her father’s lavish provisions for her make the other girls uncomfortable or jealous. Her only friend in the school is Ermengarde, a pudgy girl who has trouble with her lessons and is ver grateful for Sara’s attentions. Sara also befriends Becky, a scullery maid.
Captain Crewe is missing in action. Miss Minchin takes everything from Sara and has her stay on at the school as a servant, living in an attic next to Becky. She continues to think of herself as “a good soldier,” and tries to imagine she is a princess undergoing a trial to keep her spirits up despite deprivation and abuse. One night, while she is sleeping, her little attic is transformed into a comfortable bower with delicious food. She shares it with her friends. It comes from the gentleman across the street. It turns out that he has been befriending her father, not knowing that he was a close friend of his late son. Sara goes to thank him, and her father, seeing her, regains his memory. Sara leaves the school, taking Becky with her.
Discussion: Unlike Cedric in “Little Lord Fauntleroy,” Sara Crewe cannot be accused of being perfect, though she is not as deliciously unlikable as Mary in “A Secret Garden.” It takes her a long time to lose her temper and snap at Ermengarde, but she does, and she almost gives up hope. Her imagination is an important source of solace for her, and in a sense she is a stand-in for the author herself when she uses it to create stories for her friends.
This is also a wonderful movie to use for a discussion of empathy and compassion. Although Sara is desperately hungry, she gives almost all her food to a beggar child who is even hungrier. Note the way that her compassion inspires others; the baker who watches her give the buns to the beggar child is so moved that she gives the child a home.
Questions for Kids: