[Screen It]


(1998) (Hatty Jones, Frances McDormand) (PG)

Blood/Gore Disrespectful/
Bad Attitude
Tense Scenes
Minor *Minor Moderate *Moderate *Minor
Mild Mild Moderate None Minor
Smoking Tense Family
Topics To
Talk About
*Minor None Mild Mild Minor

Children's: A young girl sets out to prevent a wealthy baron from closing down her school.
Madeline (HATTY JONES) and her eleven young friends live at a school run by Miss Clavel (FRANCES MCDORMAND) in an old house in Paris. Madeline is the smallest of the girls, but compensates by being the most daring and adventurous.

When their patron, Lady Covington (STEPHANE AUDRAN) dies, however, her husband, Lord Covington (NIGEL HAWTHORNE), abruptly decides to sell the house and close the school. Having just had her appendix removed and having no family to return to, Madeline sets out to thwart Covington's efforts of showing the house to prospective buyers. To do so, she enlists the aid of Pepito (KRISTIAN DE LA OSA), the bratty son of their Spanish ambassador neighbors.

Along the way, Madeline encounters varying obstacles and adventures, including a fall into the Seine river, as well as being kidnaped with Pepito by his crooked tutor, Leopold (BEN DANIELS), and his circus cohorts, the Idiots Popopov. As Covington nears selling the property, Madeline and the others do what they can to save their school and home.

If they're fans of the illustrated Madeline books, they probably will. Boys and most teenagers, however, will probably pass on this film.
For momentary language.
  • HATTY JONES plays a near fearless little girl (whose motto is "I can do anything") with a love for adventure that occasionally gets her into trouble.
  • FRANCES MCDORMAND plays the girls' teacher, a strict disciplinarian who occasionally bends the rules for them.
  • NIGEL HAWTHORNE plays a recently widowed baron who decides to sell the house and close the school without thinking about the repercussions.
  • KRISTIAN DE LA OSA plays the bratty neighbor boy, a mild troublemaker who's that way because he has no friends or real adult supervision.


    OUR TAKE: 7.5 out of 10
    First written and published in 1939 by Ludwig Bemelmans, the illustrated "Madeline" series of books has delighted children and adults alike for generations. Now, nearly sixty years later, the escapades of the daring and darling little redhead are about to do the same thing on the big screen. A wonderful little film, Madeline is a great example of how live-action films for kids should be made.

    Of course, it doesn't hurt that the stories have been successfully tested through time and have an enormous built in audience, thus ensuring a decent theatrical run and even better potential once on video. I'll admit that I wasn't very familiar with the original works going in to see this picture, and thus can't comment on how faithful this adaption is to them and their overall spirit. I can tell you, however, that screenwriters Jennifer Flackett and Mark Levin (with some story assistance from Malia Scotch Marmo) have combined elements from four of the six Madeline books to create this story.

    The plot -- while not terribly complicated (which is a good thing for a film aimed at young kids) -- does offer enough charming, funny, and adventurously exciting moments to please audiences of all ages, although young boys will probably be hard pressed to enjoy (or say they enjoyed) it.

    While the film's varying scenes occasionally feel somewhat episodic (presumably an artifact from taking elements out of those four books and trying to shape a linear story), it's not so bad as to be distracting, and they fit together well enough to keep things constantly moving (and thus hold the target audience's attention).

    For the film ultimately to work, however, it needs a spunky but not overly precocious young girl in the title role, and here it greatly succeeds. Newcomer Hatty Jones is so cute and wonderfully natural in the role that it almost seems as if it were written specifically with her in mind. A natural actress, Jones gives a delightful performance that should not only win her many accolades, but also serve as a tremendous calling card should this talented young performer wish to pursue a career in acting.

    Director Daisy von Scherler Mayer ("Party Girl," "Woo") and her international team of casting directors have done an altogether fine job in casting the film. Like Jones, the eleven other girls are all making their feature film debut. While few of them are developed beyond simply filling up space on screen, all do a fine job, and kids will enjoy seeing them eating, brushing their teeth, sleeping, and everything else in unison times twelve.

    Oscar nominee Nigel Hawthorne ("The Madness of King George") is perfectly suited to play the wealthy, and initially uncaring baron, but it's Frances McDormand (an Oscar winner for "Fargo" and nominee for "Mississippi Burning") who nearly steals the show. Bringing something of a non- singing Julie Andrews/"Sound of Music" quality to her role, McDormand is fun to watch as she creates a loveably strict, but still pliable headmistress to the young girls.

    Shot entirely in Paris, the film's tech credits are all quite good, with cinematographer Pierre Aim smartly shooting from a lower vantage point to better capture the "shorter" world of the young girls, and production designer Hugo Luczyc-Wyhowski nicely capturing the mid 1950's Parisian look (which gives the proceedings more of a fairy tale feel to stateside kids who are unfamiliar with either that time or locale).

    While it's doubtful many boys or teens of either gender will want to see this film, and I can't comment on how fans of the series will react, I can't imagine it will be anything but good. As a "newcomer" to the series featuring the spunky little heroine, I was pleasantly surprised by this charming little film. Although it may test the patience of some parents, it might just win them over if they give it a chance, and it should definitely please their little girls to no end. We give "Madeline" a 7.5 out of 10.

    Here's a quick look at the film's content. Your kids -- depending on their age and tolerance for suspenseful scenes -- may or may not find some or all of the scenes as suspenseful, although few if any of them are downright frightening. Some parents may also not like the fact that a kidnaping plot is included in a kids film, even though everything turns out okay in the end.

    Some brief scatological humor occurs, as do a few imitative phrases and just a tiny bit of profanity (2 damns). Beyond some moderate bad attitudes, most of the remaining categories have little or no major objectionable content. Even so, and especially since little kids will want to see this film, you may want to take a closer look at any of the content that may be of concern to you.

  • Miss Clavel and the cook drink what appear to be tiny glasses of liquor while playing cards at night.
  • Although neither bloody nor gory, there's some very slight scatological humor involving the pungent smell of a block of cheese and from where others think that smell may have come. Thinking it's (human) gas, one of the girls says, "She who smelt it, dealt it." Later, when the girls have hidden the cheese in the music room, a diplomat who's considering buying the house tells Covington and his wife, "Don't look at me."
  • Lord Covington steps into some dog poop out in the yard.
  • One of the girls, Vicki, initially has a snobbish bit of both toward Madeline, although later she's worried about her.
  • Pepito initially has a bit of both, but mainly because he's forced to play alone and has no friends.
  • Madeline asks Pepito if there's going to be a clown at his birthday party and he responds, "You're the only clown here."
  • For most of the film, Lord Covington acts like he doesn't care about the school or the little girls. He's constantly trying to sell the building, he interrupts Clavel's class, and has a worker paint over the girl's yearly height measurements on the wall.
  • Pepito's parents leave at the beginning of his birthday party for another event.
  • Madeline takes the keys to Pepito's motor scooter (so that he can't start it).
  • Madeline occasionally calls Lord Covington "cucuface."
  • Leopold and his clown friends have both for kidnaping Madeline and Pepito.
  • Depending on the age and maturity of your child, the following may or may be not suspenseful or unsettling to them.
  • A scene where Madeline shows the first signs of appendicitis (pain, sweating), the other girls' reactions to that, the ambulance ride and the gurney trip in the hospital may be unsettling to younger viewers.
  • We see the point of view of someone looking through a kitchen window at the girls, that's followed by a "jump scene" where Pepito, dressed like a little devil, suddenly pops up at the window and momentarily scares them.
  • Going to retrieve her "lost" sketchbook, Madeline (who looks just a bit nervous) walks through a darkened wing of a museum (containing Egyptian statues) in a scene ( accompanied by some slightly suspenseful music) that may be unsettling to younger viewers (especially when she hears a echoing voice that asks, "Where are you going, little girl?" -- but it's only Pepito).
  • Younger kids may not like Pepito talk about using a guillotine on some small mice to prepare them for feeding to his pet snake (he doesn't).
  • Madeline falls from a high bridge into the river below and is slowly swept away by the current. As Clavel and the kids run through the streets to aid her downstream, a dog jumps in after Madeline (who's screaming for help) and eventually saves her.
  • There's a playfully suspenseful scene as Madeline and her pet dog try to avoid Lord Covington who's showing some potential buyers through the house.
  • Younger kids may be scared when the girls react to seeing Lord Covington dragging their dog away, but he only takes it to the street where he makes it run off.
  • A loud thunderstorm breaks out during a carnival scene.
  • Leopold forcibly grabs Pepito and later does the same to Madeline and ties both of them up in the back of a truck. Accompanied by suspenseful music, the truck then drives away as the kids yell for help.
  • Leopold and his clowns (in a truck) chase Pepito and Madeline (on a motorbike) through the woods while Miss Clavel races toward them (the scene is adventurously suspenseful).
  • Toy guns: Seen at a carnival that fire suction cup darts.
  • Phrases: "Poo poo" (or "Pooh, pooh" -- what Madeline occasionally says about things), "Booby" (relating to a bra), "Idiot(s)," "She who smelt it, dealt it" (relating to the bad smell from a block of pungent cheese that the girls believe came from another bodily source), "Bloody" (the British adjective), "Nuts" (crazy), "Cucuface" (what Madeline calls Lord Covington), "Little brats," and "Spoiled brat."
  • All of the girls start acting and sounding like chickens at the dinner table.
  • Madeline and another girl stick their tongues out at each other.
  • Madeline asks Pepito if there's going to be a clown at his birthday party and he responds, "You're the only clown here."
  • Madeline climbs up and stands atop a railing high above a river.
  • Madeline takes the keys to Pepito's motor scooter (so that he can't start it).
  • Madeline carves her name into the baseboard just like Lady Covington had done when she was much younger.
  • Hoping to sabotage Lord Covington's efforts to sell the house, the girls unscrew the hinges from one door (so that it will fall to the floor) and hide some pungent cheese to make things smell bad inside the house. Pepito then sets off many firecrackers in the yard to startle Covington and the potential buyers.
  • The girls jump up and down on their beds.
  • We see a carnival performer breathing fire, and Madeline later comments (about running away and joining the circus) that she'll have to learn such a skill in order to become a circus performer.
  • While sneaking through the kitchen, the girls are surprised when some laundry suddenly drops down onto them.
  • Pepito, dressed like a little devil, suddenly pops up at a window, momentarily scaring the girls.
  • A moderate amount of suspenseful music (often done in an adventurous or playful way) accompanies several scenes.
  • None.
  • 2 damns are used as exclamations.
  • Nearly not worth noting (but we did anyway), a police investigator (covering Pepito and Madeline's kidnaping) asks "Is it possible the boy and girl ran off on a romantic adventure? When the parents say "no," the investigator chimes in, "Perhaps if the boy were French..."
  • None.
  • Several scenes touch on the fact that Madeline has no family because both her parents died when she was very young.
  • Lady Covington dies (not seen) and Lord Covington deals with that in a very dignified and solemn fashion.
  • Pepito feels that his parents don't care about him -- especially when they leave his birthday party right when it starts to attend another function.
  • Appendicitis and appendectomies.
  • Why Lady Covington died (she had been sick for a long time).
  • Why Lord Covington wanted to sell the house and close the school.
  • Madeline pushes Pepito backwards (when he says he's going to guillotine a mouse for his pet snake) and later sits on his back and struggles with him after pinning him to the ground.
  • Pepito, riding on his motor scooter in his yard, kicks over a statue that falls to the ground and shatters.
  • We see some brief slapstick violence among some clowns (one hitting another with a suitcase and then with a rubber club, etc...).
  • Leopold forcibly grabs Pepito and later does the same to Madeline and ties both of them up in the back of a truck. Madeline then kicks one of the assisting clowns in the crotch.

  • Reviewed June 30, 1998

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