A novel written by Frances Hodgson Burnett, she also authored The Secret Garden. It is a lovely book about a little English girl named Sara Crewe, who was raised in India, by her widowed father. During the late 1800's he is sent off to war, and she is sent off to a English all-girls boarding school. Later on her father dies, leaving her penniless, and at the mercy of a cruel schoolmistress. Her spirit, and heart help her get through the tragedy. Of course like all fairy tales, she winds up finding a family who helps her recover her father's wealth. More than that they provide her with the love she desires.

In 1939, Shirley Temple starred in a crappy Hollywood version of this story. They changed the ending, so that her father was really alive, and she finds him in a hospital with amnesia.

PBS aired a good, true to the story version in 1986, but it lacked something. At least it was true to the story.

In 1997 they re-vamped the story, with the crappy ending. Instead they placed it in WWI, and the boarding school was in New York. I will give them the credit of amazing cinematography, and Liesel Matthews was absolutely captivating as Sara Crew.
This was one of my absolute favorite books when I was a child. I must have read this 20 times! Here it is for your reading enjoyment thanks to Project Gutenberg.

A Little Princess
Frances Hodgson Burnett

1. Sara
2. A French Lesson
3. Ermengarde
4. Lottie
5. Becky
6. The Diamond Mines
7. The Diamond Mines Again
8. In the Attic
9. Melchisedec
10. The Indian Gentleman
11. Ram Dass
12. The Other Side of the Wall
13. One of the Populace
14. What Melchisedec Heard and Saw
15. The Magic
16. The Visitor
17. "It Is the Child"
18. "I Tried Not to Be"
19. Anne

There is also a well-done Japanese anime adaption, a 46 episode TV series done in 1985 by Nippon Animation as part of the World Masterpiece Theater series. The role of Sara was spoken by Sumi Shimamoto who is also the seiyuu of Nausicaa.

I would like to give more information about the 1995 movie version, as well as a comparison to the book, for I think the excellent movie is not given the attention it deserves here.

First, some basic information lifted from IMDB:

Now, my review (adapted from my previous review on Amazon). Do beware of spoilers.

Both this movie and the book are very enjoyable, but they are also very different, so if you love the book you should probably treat the movie as an independent work. The difference lies not only in the ending (as is known by most, in the movie Sara's father turns out alive at the end, while in the book he is truly dead), but more importantly, on the emphasis put on Sara's character.

In the book Sara is a strong-minded girl who believes that she should behave like a real princess, kind and calm and polite, even when facing severe adversities and insufferable people. She also loves to pretend that things are better than they looks like, which gives her strength in the most desolate circumstances. Overall the Sara in the book has a very distinct character, but she is so wise and appears so much older than her real age that she doesn't look very realistic, though that actually gives the book an odd charm for me.

In the 1995 movie, Sara is closer to girls in real life. She is still as soothing and kind as in the novel, and some strong princess-like personalities remains, but she does lose her strength and calmness momentarily, even does some mischief, just like an ordinary child. The prevailing message in the movie is rather "all girls are princesses, even if they live in tiny old attics, even if they dress in rags, even if they aren't pretty or smart or young", which roughly means the same as "all people are born equal", as portrayed by Sara's friendship with not-so-clever Ermengarde, not-so-young Amelia, black servant Becky, Indian servant Ram Dass, poor people in the streets, the rats in the attic, and even the not-so-friendly Lavinia at the end. This theme is very different from the one in the book, but it stands on its own. In the movie Sara also pretends or "make believes", but the portrayal of these things seems to be a bit weak --- anyway it is hard to make these things believable in a movie, for make-believing works only as a way of thinking, which will usually sound silly when spoken aloud. The scene at the end where Sara hugs Lavinia for their reconciliation at the end is quite pretty, but I don't particularly like the destiny of Miss Minchin: making such an old woman do such drudgery is a bit less than humane, and she really isn't that bad anyway, just rather selfish and cold-hearted like many other businesspeople. I prefer that she gets some other job that doesn't involve dealing with other people, such as accounting or typewriting, where the wickedness in her character won't do any harm.

The movie is also more politically correct than the book in many details, just like other modern adaptations of classic novels. In particular, Sara's father went to fight in World War I rather than going to develop a diamond mine, which is seen as a dirty business to many now; Sara is no longer dressed ridiculously extravagantly during the time she is widely regarded as a princess; Becky is a black girl in the movie, and she becomes Sara's adopted sister at the end, rather than the attendant in the book, which still suggests a sense of inequality. In this case, I think the changes are mostly beneficial, for they remove the things that may offend a modern audience.

Enough for the movie's plot and you can see that I have mixed feelings about that. However, as far as picture and sound quality is concerned this movie is really a masterpiece. The colors are vivid, the background music memorable (I find myself humming them long after watching the movie) and really adds a "feeling" to the movie, and several scenes are beautiful beyond imagination: the scene where Sara says goodbye to his father, the first night Sara spent in the attic after her father's death, the scene where Sara gives her bread to a beggar and flowers to the mourning Randolph family, the end where Sara meets her father but has a hard time making him remember her, and in particular, the snow dance scene with Ram Dass. These make the movie worthy just for its "loveliness". Personally I have watched it over ten times during the one year I own it, and I definitely recommend it to everyone who likes lovely stories, whether they are adults or children, boys or girls, have read the book or not.

That's all that I can offer. If you like this movie (or like the novel and are eager to see this movie), there are plenty of reviews at IMDB and Amazon. Also, The page at http://www.dorothyann.net/princess.htm contains a comprehensive review comparing the book with all three (1939, 1986, 1995) movie versions, which looks good to me, although I haven't watched the other two movie versions.

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