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At the Movies: Kit Comes Alive: Kit Kittredge: An American Girl ***

Kit Kittredge: An American Girl is the first feature film made from the wildly popular and prohibitively expensive American Girl doll franchise. This one, like so many of the American Girl products, is well-made top to bottom, with an outstanding cast and even more outstanding costume design; those flowing ‘30s dresses are enough to make anyone swoon. To know American Girls is to love them, and to not know them is to judge them.

Kit Kittredge: An American Girl revolves around the Kit most young girls already know from the books, but mostly from the doll itself. With her blonde bob, her typewriter, her camera and book bag, Kit has always been arguably the most popular of the dolls, and yet she hadn’t had a feature film made about her. Her sister doll Felicity had a made-for-TV movie which was fine, but it was really a way of testing the waters; how would audiences react to movies like this, aimed at girls, based on dolls?

Turns out, they reacted perfectly fine to the live-action Felicity. And they will like Abigail Breslin’s Kit, and they will undoubtedly flock to the American Girl place and buy up everything Kit has for sale.

Kit follows the story of a young girl who dreams of being a journalist and wants to see her stories, which she thinks are good, in print. Thus, she marches down to the big town newspaper and demands the editor read her story in hopes of getting it published. The editor (the always delightful Wallace Shawn) laughs in her ten-year-old face. Does this deter Kit? By now, you could probably figure out how this particular storyline ends.

The film, though, isn’t so much about Kit’s writing ability as it is about the Depression and the survival of an American Girl within it. Times are tough for Kit’s family. Her father (Chris O’Donnell) loses his job and must look for work, her mother (Julia Ormond) must take in boarders in order to keep their house. And among those boarders are Stanley Tucci, Joan Cusack, Glenne Headly, and Jane Krakowski.

Kit befriends a “hobo” boy (Max Thieriot) and his sidekick pal (Willow Smith playing a boy), and before long, Kit is unearthing the real story of how nice hobos really are and trying to sell it to the newspaper. Of course, this just didn’t fly either, because the only hobo stories that were selling were the bad ones. In tough times, the hobos were the scapegoats for every ill wreaked upon good and common society.

But that can’t be! The hobos are nice and kind and good; it isn’t their fault they live on the streets, and soon a guy named FDR is going to come along and fix things for the hobos. The world in Kit Kittredge: An American Girl is a simple and honorable one. Thanks to some great supporting work by Tucci, Cusack and Krakowski, Kit Kittredge doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Still, they have become so good at selling that it’s impossible to tell the difference between the story, the character, and the product. No doubt many more millions of kids are going to want American Girl dolls.

It is somewhat ironic that Kit Kittredge: An American Girl is about poverty, yet at around $85 apiece one wonders how honorable it is to sell the dolls in the first place, at least without offering more affordable versions. How about an “adopt-a-doll” program where well-kept dolls can be handed over to less financially secure kids? Everybody wins.

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