A Little Princess (1995 film)

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A Little Princess
Alittleprincessposter.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Alfonso Cuarón
Produced by Alan C. Blomquist
Dalisa Cohen
Amy Ephron
Mark Johnson
Screenplay by Richard LaGravenese
Elizabeth Chandler
Based on A Little Princess 
by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Starring Liesel Matthews
Eleanor Bron
Liam Cunningham
Vanessa Lee Chester
Music by Patrick Doyle
Cinematography Emmanuel Lubezki
Edited by Steven Weisberg
Production
company
Distributed by Warner Bros. Family Entertainment
Release dates
  • May 10, 1995 (1995-05-10)
Running time 97 minutes [1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $17 million
Box office $10,015,449[2]

A Little Princess is a 1995 drama film directed by Alfonso Cuarón, starring Liesel Matthews, Eleanor Bron, Liam Cunningham, and Vanessa Lee Chester. Set during World War I, it focuses on a young girl who is relegated to a life of servitude in a New York City boarding school by the headmistress after receiving news that her father was killed in combat. Loosely based upon the novel A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, this adaptation was heavily influenced by the 1939 cinematic version and takes creative liberties with the original story.

Due to poor promotion by Warner Bros.,[3][4] the film hardly made back half its budget. However, the film was critically acclaimed[5] and given various awards, such as two Academy Award nominations [6] for its significant achievements in art direction and cinematography, among other aspects of its production.

Plot[edit]

Sara Crewe has to leave her beloved childhood home in India when her wealthy father enlists to fight for the British in World War I. He enrolls her at Miss Minchin's Seminary for Girls in New York, and spares no expense to make sure his daughter will be comfortable while he is gone. Though she finds the strict rules and harsh attitude of the headmistress stifling, Sara quickly becomes popular among the girls, including the African-American servant girl Becky, for her kindness and strong sense of imagination.

Due to a body being misidentified, Captain Crewe is declared dead and has his assets seized by the British government, leaving Sara penniless. With no money and no known living relatives, she has no choice but to earn her keep at the boarding house by becoming a servant. All her possessions are confiscated from her and she’s moved to the attic with Becky.

Meanwhile, the elderly neighbor Charles Randolph has recently received word his son John is missing in action. He is asked to identify a soldier suffering from amnesia, but is disappointed to discover it is not John. His Indian assistant Ram Dass encourages him to take in the man anyway, reminding him that he may know what happened to his son.

Though her life is bleak, Sara remains kind to others and continues to hold onto her belief that all girls are princesses. When her friends sneak up to see her and are caught by Miss Minchin, she protects them by saying she invited them. As punishment, Miss Minchin locks Becky into her room and assigns Sara to perform both Becky's and her own chores for the next day, without anything to eat for both of them. To distract them from their hunger, they imagine a huge banquet. The next morning they wake to find their dream has come true, having secretly been left there by Ram Dass.

When Miss Minchin discovers all the finery in their rooms, she assumes they somehow stole it and summons the police. Sara narrowly avoids arrest by perilously climbing over to the Randolph house. While hiding from the police searching the house, she comes across the soldier and realizes it is her father. Though Miss Minchin recognizes him, she refuses to identify the man, allowing Sara to be taken away. Just as the girls are about to be hauled away by the police, Captain Crewe's memories return, saving them.

The Crewes' fortunes are restored to them, and they adopt Becky. The Captain tells Mr. Randolph his son died in a gas attack, giving the man closure. The boarding school is removed from Miss Minchin's care and given to Mr. Randolph, becoming a much happier place. After saying goodbye to all the girls, Sara leaves with her family to return to India. Miss Minchin is later seen reduced to a chimney sweeper working for a boy she previously mistreated.

Cast[edit]

Differences from the book[edit]

  • The book takes place in Victorian era London, while the film is set in New York City at the time of World War I. Sara's father also fights in World War I here, which he did not in the book.
  • Like the Shirley Temple film version, this adaptation changes the fate of Captain Crewe. While he dies of brain fever in India in the book, here he is said to have been killed in the war. He is revealed to have been alive all along only with amnesia, and the movie ends with Sara going to live with her father.
  • In the book, Becky is a stereotypical Victorian-era Cockney girl. In the movie, she is African American, and it is heavily implied that her status as an ostracized servant is a result of racial tensions rather than her poverty. Additionally, she is fourteen years old at the beginning of the novel, whereas in the film she appears to be a child of the same age as Sara.
  • The character of Carrisford is replaced by Charles Randolph.
  • In the book, Ram Dass gradually fills Sara's attic room with fresh bed sheets, extra food, and other amenities over time, while in the movie, Sara and Becky wake up to find the room completely furnished and decorated for them with all the food.
  • The book covers a period of roughly seven years, with Sara first arriving at the boarding school as a young child and eventually being rescued by Carrisford as a teenager. The movie does not appear to cover more than one year.
  • In the book, Sara walks into the house to return Ram Dass's monkey and meets Carrisford there. The movie has an entirely different take on this; Miss Minchin discovers the decorated attic room and accuses Sara of stealing so she calls the police. Sara escapes from the police by crawling across into the other house where she finds her amnesiac father.
  • In the book, Miss Minchin is allowed to keep the school but lives in terror that Sara could ruin her with one word to Carrisford. In the movie, Mr. Randolph takes over the school and Miss Minchin is reduced to working as a chimney sweep.
  • In the film, it is implied that Sara's father has adopted Becky, rather than her becoming Sara's personal attendant like in the book.
  • In the book, the story that Sara tells is a story that she makes up, while in the film she tells the story of the Ramayana.

Soundtrack[edit]

A Little Princess
Film score by Patrick Doyle
Released May 9, 1995
Length 49:57
Label Varèse Sarabande
Patrick Doyle chronology
Exit to Eden
(1994)
A Little Princess
(1995)
Sense and Sensibility
(1995)

All of the tracks were composed by Patrick Doyle. Three of the tracks feature soloists. The "String Quintet in C major Perger 108, MH 187" by Michael Haydn is also used in the film. The film also features the New London Children's Choir.

  1. "Ramayana: A Morning Raga" (2:03)
  2. "Children Running" (0:53)
  3. "Cristina Elisa Waltz" (3:03)
  4. "The Miss Minchin School for Girls" (1:40)
  5. "Knowing You by Heart" (2:32)
  6. "Breakfast" (0:55)
  7. "Letter to Papa" (1:38)
  8. "Angel Wings" (1:07)
  9. "False Hope" (2:05)
  10. "The Trenches" (1:00)
  11. "Crewe and the Soldier" (1:22)
  12. "Alone" (1:19)
  13. "The Attic" (2:00)
  14. "On Another's Sorrow" — Catherine Hopper (1:16)
  15. "The Shawl" (0:54)
  16. "Tyger Tyger" (0:32)
  17. "Compassion" (0:37)
  18. "For the Princess" (1:38)
  19. "Kindle My Heart" — Abigail Doyle (the daughter of the composer) (3:00)
  20. "The Locket Hunt" (3:02)
  21. "Midnight Tiptoe" (1:13)
  22. "I Am a Princess" (1:14)
  23. "Just Make Believe" (1:33)
  24. "Touched by an Angel" (1:43)
  25. "Emilia Elopes" (1:38)
  26. "The Escape" (2:58)
  27. "Papa!" (2:32)
  28. "Kindle My Heart" — Liesel Matthews (4:19)

Reception[edit]

Despite its failure at the box office, A Little Princess was critically acclaimed; based on 32 reviews As of 2012 it holds a 97% 'Fresh' rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with the consensus, "Alfonso Cuarón adapts Frances Hodgson Burnett's novel with a keen sense of magic realism, vividly recreating the world of childhood as seen through the characters."[5]

Janet Maslin called the film "a bright, beautiful and enchantingly childlike vision", one that "draw[s] its audience into the wittily heightened reality of a fairy tale" and "takes enough liberties to re-invent rather than embalm Miss Burnett's assiduously beloved story." She concludes:[7]

"From the huge head of an Indian deity, used as a place where stories are told and children play, to the agile way a tear drips from Sara's eye to a letter read by her father in the rain, A Little Princess has been conceived, staged and edited with special grace. Less an actors' film than a series of elaborate tableaux, it has a visual eloquence that extends well beyond the limits of its story. To see Sara whirling ecstatically in her attic room on a snowy night, exulting in the feelings summoned by an evocative sight in a nearby window, is to know just how stirringly lovely a children's film can be."

Rita Kempley of The Washington Post called the film Cuarón's "dazzling North American debut" and wrote it "exquisitely re-creates the ephemeral world of childhood, an enchanted kingdom where everything, even make-believe, seems possible....Unlike most distaff mythology, the film does not concern the heroine's sexual awakening; it's more like the typical hero's journey described by scholar Joseph Campbell. Sarah, the adored and pampered child of a wealthy British widower, must pass a series of tests, thereby discovering her inner strengths."[8]

Awards[edit]

Awards
Year Award Category Result
1995 Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award Best Music
Best Production Design
Best Picture (2nd place)
New Generation Award (Alfonso Cuarón)
Won
1996 Academy Award Best Art Direction and Set Decoration Nominated
Academy Award Best Cinematography Nominated
Young Artist Award Best Family Feature - Drama
Best Young Leading Actress - Feature Film (Vanessa Lee Chester)
Best Young Leading Actress - Feature Film (Liesel Matthews)
Nominated

Home video release[edit]

A Little Princess was first released to home video in August 1995. In 2004, it was released on DVD with a sticker on the container marked "From the director of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban".

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]