Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Little Princess: Book and Film

The sweet girl and I have both been feeling a little under the weather the past few days. Nothing terrible, but extra tired (probably the heat).

Last night her Daddy had to work late, and we decided that we needed a girl's movie night, even though it was just Monday -- movie nights in our household tend to be on Fridays. But hey, it's summer! And it felt good to loll around for a bit!

So during dinner we watched Little Princess, the Alfonso Cuaron directed version from 1995. It was the sweet girl's pick: she's been interested in seeing it ever since we finished our second read-through of the book, which is one of her absolute favorites.

I'd seen the movie before, and remembered a lot of the changes made to the plot, but I'd forgotten how much they seem to miss the heart of the book. I know I'm biased because the book is so beloved. And I continue to struggle with the idea of whether or not faithfulness to the source material is a valid criteria for judging the ultimate success of a film. I'm torn between reviewing a film on its own merits as a film, and providing contrasts with the book. I usually end up trying to find a balance.

At least that's what I tried in this review I posted at Epinions earlier today. If you know the book or the movie, or if you know both, what do you think? Would you agree with my assessment that "striving to act like a princess in terribly degraded circumstances is a real and moving struggle for Sarah Crewe, and that struggle is mostly lost in translation"?

Because sometimes films can have beautiful artistry in their own right and yet retain the heart of the source material. D. and I recently finished re-watching To Kill a Mockingbird, and once again I'm in awe at how well that movie captures the essence of the book. The book makes me weep, but then so does the film. Different sorts of weeping maybe, but tapping the same stream.


Elouise82 said...

I have such a hard time with this movie. So much about it infuriates me, but there is such beauty in it, too. I've actually been mulling a post for a while on the difference between "true" princesses and princesses as understood in popular culture, using The Little Princess book and movie as an example - how the book emphasizes that to be a princess, you have to strive to hold yourself to a higher standard than anyone else, regardless of circumstance, while the movie promotes the idea that everyone is a princess, if she is just given the proper opportunity to shine. Very, very different messages, and I think it is a shame that the movie watered down the book's tone and reversed its point like that. Some changes I don't mind, but a complete contradiction of what the book was trying to say DOES bother me intensely.

Beth said...

Oh, you've captured it so well here! Please do write the post. I'd love to read it.

I seem to run into this problem with Cuaron films in general (I had a similar problem with his version of Prisoner of Azkaban). I can appreciate their creativity and artistry on so many levels. And yet he just seems to miss the heart of the story each time. I know that's a joint effort among everyone who makes a film, and in the case of Little Princess, the script itself is problematic.

I struggled with that little throw-away scene where Sara Crewe pretends to "curse" the snobby little girl Lavinia. It wasn't really malevolent, and it was clear she was just horsing around (and finding a creative way to vent her anger). But it was so unlike the dignified little girl of the novel, who strives to find ways to bless others even on her worst days (and the fact that it made my daughter laugh, and was a scene she remembered when it was over, made it worse). I know the real Sara Crewe had real struggles with temper and self-control (I love that Burnett lets us see that -- it's part of the book's power) but I also love that her kindheartedness shines through so many times.

Part of the problem is that our culture doesn't understand suffering -- how to depict it in stories, how to endure it. Book-Sara suffers and endures.

E Louise Bates said...

Oh yes, that "cursing" scene always bothered me, too. It seems so hard for people of our culture (and generation, I think) to distinguish true goodness from priggishness, and so many times adaptations of older books have to add in elements to make sure the audience can understand this character isn't just a passive bore.

Which is foolishness, really, because Sara is strong, and human, and a child, and still someone who strives to live up to her principles, while at the same time having that marvelous imagination - the imagination that doesn't make her a princess, but helps her along the journey.

Beth said...

Distinguishing true goodness from priggishness...another good insight. I think you're right that contemporary culture (and artists) struggle with that. It's perhaps one reason why modern films often seem to give us more complex (and admittedly interesting) evil characters than good ones. I think goodness is harder to understand and capture.(Witness, just as one big for instance, the creative animation and energy behind the Horned King in the awful Disney adaptation of The Black Cauldron. And then the insipid and derivative animation behind characters like Taran and Eilonwy.)

It seems especially hard for filmmakers to depict self-sacrificial actions. I think they fear that characters will come across as martyrs or "wimps" (to use a contemporary term!) and they want to show strength and control.