The 1939 adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s book by the same name is a cinema classic. Given, the movie doesn’t go entirely by the book. But it still has more than enough charm to make it a favorite among families nearly three quarters of a century after it first debuted.
While the big screen adaptation of the book doesn’t go entirely by the book, the script and the acting more than make up for the fact that there are some differences between the book and the movie. Shirley Temple’s take on Sara makes her character an entirely sympathetic character. While fellow actress Mary Nash makes Amanda Minchin an absolutely vile character that audiences will love to hate. That means that Nash more than did her job in the role. The cast’s ability to interpret the story, along with directors William Lang and William A. Seiter makes the movie even better. The story is one of triumph over great adversity. Here we have a young girl who goes from being pampered to perpetually punished by the vile Miss Minchin when her father is believed to have been killed in the Boer War. Throughout all of the adversity, Sara is able to persevere and come out on top. She’s a relatable character. Yes she starts out with money. But even with money, Sara was still a good hearted person. In being persecuted so harshly by Miss Minchin, audiences are reminded that similar persecution still goes on today around the world. It isn’t at the same kind of level by any means. But it does happen. The average middle-class person is still looked down on by those in higher social classes just because they aren’t rich. That alone is a big part of what makes this movie still so beloved to this day.
The primary story in The Little Princess is one of overcoming great odds and defying those would try to hold others down just because of something as minor as not having money. But there is also a secondary story tied into the main one. That additional story centers on the power of family, friendship, and personal faith. Sara continued to maintain the faith that her father hadn’t really been killed, which not to give too much away, proves true at least in this take on the classic tale. How that is revealed won’t be told here for the sake of those who haven’t seen the movie. And if not for the friendship of Becky and Ermengarde, getting through her daily harassment from Miss Minchin would have been unbearable. It was that power of friendship that helped Sara to keep the faith and keep pushing through her seemingly insurmountable odds. By the story’s end it would be a surprise if any audience is left dry-eyed. Yes, the final sequence is that saccharine. But it can be forgiven as audiences will be rooting for Sara throughout the movie.
This take on the classic literary work is a wonderful family film. It serves as a reminder of everything that is still so great even today about classic movies. Some movies have been made in the same vein as the Little Princess. But none since have been able to capture the magic created by this adaptation. That magic will continue to keep it a family favorite for another seventy plus years as long as families remember and protect it and continue to pass it down to future generations.
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