Though "Kit Kittredge: An American Girl" has been heavily marketed toward young girls, parents and grandparents chaperoning tweenage girls to this movie will likely find themselves surprisingly moved by this Great Depression era film.
Based on the best-selling American Girl books and dolls, the film tells the story of Kit (Abigail Breslin, "Nim's Island"), a 10-year-old aspiring newspaper reporter who lives in Cincinnati in 1934 with her mother (Julia Ormond, "First Knight") and father (Chris O'Donnell, "Kinsey"). Though much of the country has been reeling from the effects of unemployment and widespread poverty for several years, the Kittredges are relatively insulated from the depression until the bank forecloses on Kit's father's car dealership.
Though the movie includes plenty of light-hearted moments, it is the unexpectedly moving scenes of a neighbor's possessions confiscated by the bank when their house is foreclosed on and a glimpse of a beloved father receiving free soup at the local food kitchen after he loses his job that really brings home the film's message - it's not important how much money you have, but what you choose to do with it that matters.
After losing his job, O'Donnell departs for Chicago in search of work, with promises to write home at least once a week. But his once regular letters soon begin to falter, leaving Kit and her mother emotionally jolted. In his few scenes O'Donnell, who is a quintessential American male and thus ideal for this role, really shines. His character's inner anguish at not being able to financially support his family the way he feels he should and the shame that he feels because of that really bleeds through. Ormond turns in a credible performance as Kit's sympathetic kind-hearted mother. Breslin's Kit is indomitable in her determination to "be in print" and to see her friends and family safe.
To pay the mortgage on their house, the Kittredges decide to take in boarders, a mobile librarian (Joan Cusack), a dance instructor and a magician, among others, who provide much of the movie's comic relief. But when someone with inside knowledge steals all the money Kit and her mother have saved, suspicions quickly falls on some local hobos that have been doing odd jobs for the Kittredges in exchange for meals.
The hostility and xenophobia that many in Cincinnati feel toward the hobos and their tendency to lump all of them into the category of "bad" might remind some viewers of current stereotyping trends in America regarding Hispanic immigrants and Muslims.
Luckily Kit is wiser than the adults, who are quick to cast blame on the easy targets. Through some solid investigative reporting, Kit and her friends determine who the real culprits are. But is it in time to save the day? Of course it is, because this is still a kid's movie, although not everyone gets the fairytale ending that we may hope for.
Some fathers, unable to live with themselves after losing their jobs, never return home to their wives and children. Some children are forced to grow up way too soon and strike out on their own. Amidst all of the light-hearted fun, the movie poses some serious moral dilemmas that we as a society, 70 years later, still haven't answered.
"Kit Kittredge: An American Girl" is rated G and has a running time of 1 hour and 1 minute.