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"HARRIET THE SPY"
(1996) (Michelle Trachtenberg, Rosie O'Donnell) (PG)

Alcohol/
Drugs
Blood/Gore Disrespectful/
Bad Attitude
Frightening/
Tense Scenes
Guns/
Weapons
Minor None Heavy Mild *Minor
Imitative
Behavior
Jump
Scenes
Music
(Scary/Tense)
Music
(Inappropriate)
Profanity
Moderate None Minor None Minor
Sex/
Nudity
Smoking Tense Family
Scenes
Topics To
Talk About
Violence
*Minor *Minor Moderate Mild Mild


QUICK TAKE:
Children's: An eleven-year-old girl records the actions of people she spies upon in order to become a better writer.
PLOT:
Eleven-year-old Harriet Welsch (MICHELLE TRACHTENBERG) wants to be a writer when she grows up. Her nanny, Golly (ROSIE O'DONNELL), tells her the best way to sharpen her writing skills is to spy on others and keep a daily journal of their actions. Harriet then goes around keeping dibs on enemies and allies alike, including her good friends Sport (GREGORY SMITH) and Janie (VANESSA LEE CHESTER), and the preppy girl everyone loves to hate, Marion Hawthorne (Charlotte Sullivan). Soon, however, Marion finds Harriet's private notebook and her thoughts and views are read to everyone. Harriet then becomes an outcast and soon retaliates back against the kids who are now ignoring or making fun of her. From then on, Harriet must figure out how to repair all of the damage that's been done.
WILL KIDS WANT TO SEE IT?
Preteens will probably want to see it as will any kids who are used to Nickelodeon's kid-oriented TV programming.
WHY THE MPAA RATED IT: PG
For mild language and some thematic elements.
CAST AS ROLE MODELS:
  • MICHELLE TRACHTENBERG plays the young spy/writer. She has good intentions and while she writes her personal feelings in a private notebook, once her views are out, others' feelings are hurt. In addition, she does go on quite a revenge spree to get back at those who've shunned her.
  • ROSIE O'DONNELL plays Harriet's nanny. She's the philosopher and psychiatrist for Harriet's psyche and is a good role model.
  • VANESSA LEE CHESTER plays Harriet's chemistry set obsessed friend. While her interest in science is admirable, kids might get the wrong idea with her nearly mad scientist behavior.
  • THE REST OF THE KIDS play the somewhat normal range of children in that age group (some good traits, some not so good.)
  • CAST, CREW, & TECHNICAL INFO

    HOW OTHERS RATED THIS MOVIE


    OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
    While kids will probably like the movie, adults will probably be bored by it. The story skips and jumps from minor plot line to minor plot line and often is shot in the frenetic MTV style of fast cuts and swishing camera movement that might give parents a headache (but kids will love). Once the story establishes a real plot line (that of the other kids finding out what Harriet thought about them and their reactions and then Harriet's retaliation at them) it takes somewhat of a mean spirited turn and ruins what could have been a fun story. Of course it gets quickly and unbelievably resolved so that the movie has a happy ending. Trachtenberg is very enjoyable as a young actress and O'Donnell is good in her limited role, but overall the film gets just a 4 out of 10.
    OUR WORD TO PARENTS:
    Although there's nothing horribly objectionable about the film, several things do warrant mentioning. First, the relationship between Harriet and her parents isn't healthy. Harriet often talks back to them (granted she's getting to that age where kids do that) and they don't seem to give her the support she needs. Worse than that is the whole element of Harriet's private notebook and what happens after her thoughts about others have been exposed. The other kids, being kids, shun her and make her life miserable, but in a very mean spirited way. She then retaliates with even worse actions that only heightens the tension among all of them. These issues might make you think about whether your kids can handle and understand these situations.

    ALCOHOL OR DRUG USE
  • Golly tells Harriet that her parents are at a party eating caviar and drinking champagne.
  • Harriet's parents are seen with mixed drinks as Golly gets Harriet ready for bed.
  • When told that she has to give up writing in her notebook, Harriet asks her parents why they don't give up their martini's they have when they come home from work.
  • BLOOD/ GORE
  • None.
  • DISRESPECTFUL/BAD ATTITUDE
  • A good part of the movie deals with Harriet spying on people out in public or watching them through windows or skylights which certainly doesn't show respect for privacy.
  • Harriet and her parents don't have a great relationship and thus don't always respect each other as they should. Harriet is often argumentative with them and in one scene throws something at them in anger.
  • Seeing a smaller child on a "leash," Harriet says if her parents had used such a thing with her, she would've traded them in.
  • A man is seen stealing from an elderly woman's purse.
  • Harriet sees a grocery store worker "stealing" vegetables (but at the end learns that he and others give them to the poor kids for food).
  • Harriet slurps your soup to annoy the "veggie thief" (from above) who's having dinner with Golly.
  • Janie makes a "stink bomb" to use during the school's stage production.
  • To spy on the new owner of a big house, Harriet actually sneaks into the house and hides in a dumb waiter, but is eventually discovered and thrown out.
  • Marion steals Harriet's notebook and then reads Harriet's personal thoughts and observations (which aren't nice or respectful such as "The worse thing than being Marion Hawthorne is wanting to be Marion Hawthorne,"and "If I was the boy in the purple socks, I would hang myself") to the other kids.
  • After the above, all of the kids, including Sport and Janie ignore, laugh at, or make fun of Harriet (they pass a note saying "Harriet smells" etc...).
  • Marion asks Harriet, "Where's your notebook?" to which Harriet responds, "I don't know, have you looked up your butt?"
  • When her parents refer to her teacher, Harriet says the teacher "can shut up."
  • The other kids laugh at Harriet when their teacher "frisks" her looking for a notebook she's not supposed to be writing in.
  • Two other kids pour their buckets of paint onto Harriet (it's hard to tell if it's intentionally done since the film takes a sort of "Harriet's going paranoid" stance during this scene).
  • Harriet enacts revenge upon the other kids (cutting off a pony tail, running a girl's bra out the flag pole, defacing magazines in a girl's locker, making fun of Marion's father not living with them, posting embarrassing photos of Sport on the school walls, etc...).
  • Golly tells Harriet that she'll have to apologize and lie to the other kids to get them to like her again. She says sometimes a little lie makes people feel better.
  • Harriet, writing in her school newspaper, says "Hey stupid school board, give (the teacher) a raise."
  • FRIGHTENING/TENSE SCENES
  • Harriet stands atop a precariously balanced stack of boxes to spy through a second story window. Suddenly, the stack collapses and Harriet finds herself hanging on for dear life from the window ledge. After a few tense moments, Sport sees and rescues her through the window.
  • Harriet sneaks into a house and is discovered by the family dog. She worries that the owner will find her, so she hides in the dumb waiter and then decides to pull herself up to the second floor. There she sees the owner (played by Eartha Kitt, TV's "Catwoman" from the "Batman" TV show) who might look scary to little kids (she looks like Cruella de Ville).
  • The other kids go on a "terrify Harriet" binge where they jump out at or chase her while banging on garbage can lids and yelling at her. The disorienting way in which this is shot, along with the echoing sounds might be disturbing to little kids.
  • Two other kids pour paint onto Harriet and the others surround her, smearing the paint all over her as they try to clean her off. This is disturbing because it's played out as a "Harriet's getting paranoid" scene with weird angles and echoing sound.
  • There's a strangely shot scene where Harriet is seen up through the bathtub water and thus her image is all distorted. She jumps into the water and the paint spreads off her and the other kids whispering, echoing taunts can be heard (in Harriet's mind we suppose).
  • GUNS/WEAPONS
  • Harriet tells Sport and Janie that if anyone sees their secret tattoos there should be quick deaths and all three kids imitate holding a gun to their heads and pulling the trigger.
  • IMITATIVE BEHAVIOR
  • A good part of the movie deals with Harriet spying on people out in public or watching them through windows or skylights. Kids who see this, who haven't already thought about playing "Spy," will certainly do so afterwards.
  • To spy on people, Harriet also climbs onto roofs and in one scene she she stacks precariously balanced boxes to look through a second story window. Both actions, if imitated, could be hazardous.
  • Harriet, Sport and Janie write with an ink pen on their feet to create "secret" tattoos.
  • Golly shakes up a carbonated drink and then shoots the fizz out onto Harriet, Janie and Sport. She then gets them to shake up the drink, state what they want in life, and then drink down the fizzing liquid. Then they take more swigs of the drink and then spit it out in long streams to the ground.
  • Harriet slurps her soup.
  • Harriet gets into a staring match with Golly's date.
  • Phrases: "Shut up," "Barf bag," "Suckiest," "Butt breath," "Retarded," "Dorkify," and "Dedorkification."
  • A health department official carries off a man's numerous cats in a burlap sack (kids might think about putting pets in bags, etc...).
  • Harriet sneaks into a house without permission to spy on the occupants.
  • Harriet carves the other kids names into her desktop with the point of her metal compass.
  • The kids bend over and shake their butts during a song at the end of the movie.
  • JUMP SCENES
  • None.
  • MUSIC (SCARY/TENSE)
  • There's some minor scary music when Harriet sneaks into a house and hides in the dumb waiter and some weird sounds during the "Harriet's going crazy" scenes.
  • MUSIC (INAPPROPRIATE)
  • None.
  • PROFANITY
  • 5 craps, and 2 uses of "Oh Lord, and 1 use of "Oh my God" as exclamations.
  • SEX/NUDITY
  • Harriet mentions that one of the girls in their class spent the summer "growing boobs" and when the girl bends over to pick up something off the floor, the boys in the class scramble to get a good look at her.
  • SMOKING
  • Greta Garbo is seen smoking in the movie "Mata Hari" that Golly takes Harriet to see.
  • TENSE FAMILY SCENES
  • Harriet hears her father yelling about his job to her mother.
  • Golly decides it's time to leave the Welsch family (partially because Mrs. Welsch blows up at her for taking Harriet to a movie without telling them) and her departure leaves a void in Harriet's life.
  • There are several scenes between Harriet and her parents that discuss Harriet's behavior in school and toward the other kids. There's much disagreement, and Harriet is often downright argumentative with them and once stomps up the stairs away from them and in another scene throws something at them.
  • Harriet makes fun of Marion's father not living with her, saying that he hasn't seen Marion in three years because he doesn't love her.
  • TOPICS TO TALK ABOUT
  • What a nanny is.
  • How to express your thoughts and feelings about others (here, Harriet put them in her private notebook, but it fell into the wrong hands).
  • An oriental grandfather is twice seen with acupuncture needles sticking out of him. Kids will probably ask what was on his back.
  • Harriet's parents take her to see a psychiatrist for her bad behavior.
  • Whether little lies, intended to make people feel better, are okay.
  • VIOLENCE
  • Referring to a girl in her class who always looks like she's going to cry, Harriet writes, "I wish someone would just kick her and get it over with."
  • One of Janie's science experiments blows up in her mother's face, covering her with green goo.
  • Harriet writes that another person looks like they could go on a "psycho killing spree."
  • Janie jokes about creating a poison that would "do in" Marion.
  • A teenager's grandfather beats him with a rolled up newspaper for wrecking the family's business truck.
  • A maid tells a dog, "I'm going to shave you down and teach you a lesson."
  • The kids play a game of "bumper tag" where they smash into other players instead of just tagging them, but it's all quite innocent and fun.
  • Harriet tells Marion "Give it (her notebook) back before I pound you into the cement."
  • Harriet slaps Marion across the face after she spills her can of paint on Harriet.
  • Harriet violently rips her notebook apart.
  • Harriet carves the other kids names into her desktop with the point of her metal compass.
  • Harriet cuts off a classmate's pony tail.
  • Harriet purposefully knocks over a classmate's art project.
  • Harriet picks up some object (we couldn't tell what it was) and throws it at her parents when they confront her about her retaliation toward the other students.



  • Reviewed July 11, 1996

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