One of the most beloved heroines of children’s literature is brought to life in this movie based on the classic series of books by Ludwig Bemelmans about the “twelve little girls in two straight lines” who live in “a small house in Paris that was covered with vines,” and especially “the smallest one,” Madeline. Bemelmans’ gorgeous water colors turn into gorgeously photographed Paris, set vaguely in the 1950s, setting the stage for Madeline’s night-time race to the hospital for an appendectomy, her fall into the Seine and rescue by the brave dog Genevive, and her adventures with Pepito, the son of the Spanish ambassador. Frances McDormand (whose performance in “Fargo” won an Oscar) plays Miss Clavel, the nun who cares for her charges with imagination, wisdom, and love, and courage. Nigel Hawthorne (of “The Madness of King George”) plays stern Lord Covington, who wants to sell the small house covered with vines and close down the school.
Young children, especially fans of the books, will enjoy the film. Newcomer Hetty Jones is a spunky Madeline, brave enough to say “Pooh Pooh” to a tiger, smart enough to know that if she asks Pepito to be extra quiet he will find some way to do something noisy, and determined enough to find a way to stop Lord Covington from selling the school his late wife loved so dearly.
Parental concerns: Miss Clavel’s tolerance of the girls’ misbehavior (a riotous debate over whether the girls should eat a chicken Madeline had seen before it was killed, a late night kitchen raid), a kidnapping that younger children might find scary, and the overall absence of parents (Pepito’s parents are loving but rather neglectful, Madeline is an orphan).