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Kit Kittredge: An American Girl DVD Review

Kit Kittredge movie poster Kit Kittredge: An American Girl

Theatrical Release: June 20, 2008 / Running Time: 100 Minutes / Rating: G

Director: Patricia Rozema / Writers: Ann Peacock (screenplay), Valerie Tripp (stories)

Cast: Abigail Breslin (Margaret Mildred "Kit" Kittredge), Julia Ormond (Margaret Kittredge), Chris O'Donnell (Jack Kittredge), Jane Krakowski (Miss Dooley), Wallace Shawn (Mr. Gibson), Max Thieriot (Will Shepherd), Willow Smith (Countee), Glenne Headly (Mrs. Howard), Zach Mills (Stirling Howard), Kenneth Welsh (Uncle Hendrick), Madison Davenport (Ruthie Smithens), Joan Cusack (Miss Bond), Stanley Tucci (Jefferson Berk), Dylan Smith (Frederich), Douglas Nyback (Billy), Dylan Roberts (Reporter), Martin Doyle (Teacher), Colin Mochrie (Mr. Pennington), Martin Roach (Hobo Doctor)

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Like any business, American Girl has to turn a profit. To that end, new collectible dolls and countless accessories are regularly introduced and promoted. But beyond commercialism, the company maintains a loftier goal, which is to educate today's youth on America's history, using 9-year-old girl characters as a relatable entry point to life in a past era.
That is enough to distinguish American Girl from its more affordable and available competition, like Barbie and Bratz. It also adds a dimension lacking from popular properties playing to the same market, like Disney's "Hannah Montana" and High School Musical, which began as TV programming and now thrive as merchandise empires.

American Girl began with merchandise, first selling their historical dolls by mail order in 1986. In 1998, toy giant Mattel (the makers of Barbie and many others) acquired the company. Since then, there's been a gradual move away from retired founder Pleasant Rowland's original vision to more marketable modern dolls. But the namesake line of historical characters has remained at the foreground and three of the girls became the stars of period dramas made for TV this decade. The stakes and budgets were raised for their fourth film, Kit Kittredge: An American Girl, which with studio backing went to theaters this past summer.

Steadily-employed, Oscar-nominated Abigail Breslin stars as Kit Kittredge, a 10-year-old aspiring journalist living in 1930s Cincinnati. The Great Depression may be taking its toll on the rest of the nation, but it's yet to wreak havoc on the Kittredges. Then suddenly it arrives, when Kit spots her car dealer father (Chris O'Donnell) at a soup kitchen and learns he's now unemployed. The Kittredges try to weather the financial hardship. While Dad heads off to Chicago to look for work, Mom (Julia Ormond) opens up the family home to boarders.

"Kit Kittredge: An American Girl" stars Abigail Breslin as the eponymous aspiring journalist of 1930s Cincinnati. Reduced means grants the Kittredges a full house in the form of colorful boarders.

Rather than underscore their newly-reduced livelihood, the eccentric boarders spice up life for the Kittredges. Among the guests are judgmental Mrs. Howard (Glenne Headly) and her father-missing son (Zach Mills, Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium), leggy dance teacher Miss Dooley (Jane Krakowski), driving-impaired Bookmobile employee Miss Bond (Joan Cusack), and mustachioed magician Jefferson Jasper Berk (Stanley Tucci).

Instead of paying her housemates much attention, Kit remains more interested in hearing from her father and pursuing publication in the Cincinnati Register, the latter of which will require the approval of the paper's testy editor (Wallace Shawn).

Meanwhile, a spree of burglaries puts fear in the locals of the hobos reportedly behind it. Kit and her Clubhouse friends are skeptical of the claims, having warmed to the abundant hobo population in their experiences with two of them (Max Thieriot, Willow Smith) and a visit to their friendly commune. A theft occurring inside the Kittredge house serves as climax, supplying at least two genuine surprise twists while tying up threads and determining once and for all if the rampant hobo prejudice is justified.

"A 10-year-old journalist? Inconceivable!," thinks Cincinnati Register editor Mr. Gibson (Wallace Shawn), though sadly not in those exact words. Kit and her friends learn about hobo symbols from their hobo friend Will Shepherd (Max Thieriot).

Despite the dozen or so recognizable actors on hand, Kit Kittredge feels like the earlier TV movies in quality. The performances are generally phoned-in, the structure and heroine regularly border on cloying, and the social message feels forced into both the film and viewers. The whole thing kind of feels like afterschool playtime and the Great Depression seems more like a bad mood that will pass.

That said, while it's easy to recognize the filmic shortcomings of Kit, it's tougher to get particularly bothered by them. The target audience of pre-teen girls won't notice or care, and the mildly educational historical proceedings will do them far more good than the generic messages recycled in the glitzy but shallow Camp Rock and High School Musical movies.
If Kit was made for television with less experienced actors in the parts, I think I'd be more compelled to appreciate it. Only when elevated to the highest forum of film do the hokey and amateurish aspects become noticeable.

Kit Kittredge didn't quite have the box office impact that its producers were cautiously hoping for. But while its $17.6 million domestic gross didn't give pause to its summertime competition (Hancock, WALL•E, Kung Fu Panda, and the like), it did handily clear the film's modest $10 million budget. Whether that means more American Girl movies will be heading to theaters remains to be seen. Before Kit's release, producer Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas announced she was developing a musical around 1970s San Franciscan Julie Albright. The next American Girl movie, centering on a soon-to-be-introduced contemporary character, is going straight to DVD in January.

This week, Kit comes to DVD and Blu-ray. Keep reading for our look at the former, which is expected to sell well in the face of higher-profile holiday season fare.

Buy Kit Kittredge: An American Girl on DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen,
1.33:1 Reformatted Fullscreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: October 28, 2008
Double-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-10)
Suggested Retail Price: $12.98 (Reduced from $28.98)
Black Keepcase
Also available on Blu-ray Disc


On DVD, Kit Kittredge can fill both 4:3 and 16:9 television screens without distortion. Opposite sides of the disc present the movie in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen (resembling its theatrical dimensions) and 1.33:1 open matte fullscreen. The latter often gains more in height than it loses in width. Either way, you're treated to warm colors with a sunny yesteryear tint. The picture is a little grainier and softer than some might like, but then viewers are more apt to complain about character development, itself pretty unlikely. The sufficient Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack remains limited to the front and center channels.

The Kit Kittredge DVD main menu takes a routine approach. Uh, something's not right here... A gun-toting Will Smith and "I Am Legend" extras is what the "Go to DVD-ROM Special Features" link took me to. Your mileage may vary once street date arrives.


Before the menu loads, a preview plays for direct-to-DVD "American Girl: Girl of the Year - The Movie." I'm not italicizing that because it's not really the title.
That's apparently being kept under wraps (hint: it rhymes with Dissa Lands Wrong), as you can know it's about a bullied contemporary girl but not her name.

If you liked that, you may enjoy the rest of the video bonus features offered here: trailers for the three previous American Girl flicks (Samantha: An American Girl Holiday, Felicity: An American Girl Adventure, Molly: An American Girl on the Home Front). "Trailers" is actually being generous, because these 15-20 second spots command buying with a minimum of clippage. I guess Kit Kittredge's own trailer would have been too substantive to include among the short commercials.

Maybe the most attractive inclusion for portably-wired girls is the in-case insert that provides a unique code for downloading a free digital copy of the film. Apparently, Warner's offerings aren't Apple-compatible, so overloaded pink iPods can be spared pruning.

The case and menus also mention the presence of DVD-ROM content. I suspect something was amiss here as I was treated to "Cautionary Tale: The Science of I Am Legend" (20:41) and 21 short featurettes under the heading "Creating I Am Legend", all of which pertained to last year's apocalyptic PG-13 Will Smith blockbuster and not Kit Kittredge. Hopefully, they get that sorted out by Tuesday's release, and they should since it's Internet-based. I have a hard time believing nothing was produced or available for the DVD, so maybe a missed deadline is simply relegating it to the Internet. That'd make more sense than a deliberate suppressing.

Silent and static, the menus aspire to the appearance of Kit's "member-o-belia" collection, with photos and paper clips and the like.

Kit gets some great Depression reassurances from her unemployed father (Chris O'Donnell). Kit, Ruthie (Madison Davenport), and Stirling (Zach Mills) are our young sleuths on the film's climactic mystery. Here, they sneak a look from the Clubhouse.


I wasn't very impressed by Kit Kittredge and I doubt most people who aren't girls or parents of them will feel differently. There are far worse family films out there with less noble intentions. But there are also far better ones that entertain more readily and also educate incidentally. Most have been given better DVD treatment as well.

I suspect my unenthusiastic reaction to the film won't dissuade. Those already into American Girls will presumably lap this up. Others who aren't may find this an acceptable introduction to the $100-doll market. If that thought sends you into a great depression, stay away.

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Related Reviews:
New to DVD: Tinker Bell • Journey to the Center of the Earth • Sleeping Beauty • Alvin and the Chipmunks: Classic Holiday Gift Set
2008 Family Films: Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert • The Spiderwick Chronicles • Camp Rock • Speed Racer
Eloise at the Plaza • Eloise at Christmastime • Where the Red Fern Grows • The Water Horse • Get a Clue • Sounder • My Scene Goes Hollywood
Wild Hearts Can't be Broken • The Journey of Natty Gann • Avonlea: Season 1 • Bridge to Terabithia • The House Without a Christmas Tree

The Cast and Crew of Kit Kittredge: An American Girl:
Abigail Breslin: The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause • The Ultimate Gift • Zombieland • Grey's Anatomy: Season Three • Air Buddies
Max Thieriot: The Pacifier • Jumper • Nancy Drew (Drew's Clues On Demand) | Wallace Shawn: Toy Story • The Incredibles
Joan Cusack: Ice Princess • Confessions of a Shopaholic • Toy Story 2 • Martian Child • Chicken Little | Stanley Tucci: Julie & Julia
Screenplay by Ann Peacock: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

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Reviewed October 26, 2008.

Text copyright 2008 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2008 Picturehouse, New Line Cinema, HBO Films, and Warner Home Video. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.