Madeline (1998 film)

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Madeline movie poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Daisy von Scherler Mayer
Produced by Saul Cooper
Pancho Kohner
Allyn Stewart
Screenplay by Mark Levin
Jennifer Flackett
Story by Malia Scotch Marmo
Mark Levin
Jennifer Flackett
Based on Madeline 
by Ludwig Bemelmans
Starring Hatty Jones
Frances McDormand
Nigel Hawthorne
Music by Michel Legrand
Cinematography Pierre Aïm
Edited by Jeffrey Wolf
Distributed by TriStar Pictures
Release dates
July 10, 1998
Running time
88 minutes
Country France
United States
Language English
Box office $36,967,750

Madeline is a 1998 live-action film adaptation of the book series by Ludwig Bemelmans, starring Hatty Jones as the title character, Frances McDormand as Miss Clavel and Nigel Hawthorne as Lord Cucuface aka Lord Covington. The film encompasses the plots of four Madeline books. It was released on July 10, 1998 by TriStar Pictures.


In 1956 in the city Paris, France, Madeline attends a boarding school run by Miss Clavel, a nun. She is the only orphan and wishes she had a family since her parents died of heart disease. She goes on daily walks, eats her favorite meal "Chicken Hélèn" (named after the cook who makes it), and causes mischief for Miss Clavel. One night, Miss Clavel feels that something is not right, so she runs up to the girls' room and finds Madeline groaning in pain on her bed. Quickly, Miss Clavel dials the hospital, who explains to Miss Clavel that they must take out Madeline's appendix immediately. During her stay in the hospital overnight, after the surgery, Madeline wanders down the hallways, and finds Lady Covington. The two begin to talk, and Lady Covington reveals to Madeline that she carved her name under Madeline's bed, Marie-Gilberte. She asks Madeline to see if it's still there. Their conversation is interrupted by the strict Lord Covington, who orders Madeline to leave. A few days later, when Madeline is ready to go, she discovers that Lady Covington had died because she contracted a rare but deadly parasitic roundworm. She then sees a chicken in Helen's car, and finds out that it's the Chicken Helen that will be served that night.

When Madeline arrives at the school, she meets Pepito, the Spanish Ambassador's son, who is the main target of a kidnapper named Leopold who wants to collect money from the Ambassador since he's rich. That night, Madeline refuses to eat the chicken "Fred" because she made friends with him in the car. She turns half the other girls against chicken and make them vegetarians and cluck, which results in Miss Clavel sending the girls up to bed without dinner, after a discussion with Covington about how he's closing the school down as he has resigned his job due to his wife's death. The girls are hungry so they sneak down to eat. However, they get scared by Pepito, who appears dressed like a demon. When Miss Clavel and Helen find the girls, they reluctantly decide to give them dinner. The next day, Miss Clavel goes to Pepito's house to offer him a toolbox and ends up talking with Leopold who is posing as Pepito's tutor. Then, Miss Clavel takes the girls to an art gallery where Pepito himself steals Madeline's notebook and writes "Beware" in it. The girls wonder why until Miss Clavel tells them that they have been invited to Pepito's birthday. While there, Pepito shows the girls his menagerie and attempts to scare them by dangling a white baby mouse in their face. It works on the other girls, but not on Madeline. Pepito tries to scare her by almost feeding it to his snake but Madeline insists he's bluffing. Pepito calls it off and shows the girls his guillotine that he built with the tools in his new toolbox and almost executes the mouse. Madeline defends the mouse by pushing Pepito away. She lets the remaining caged mice go in retaliation, and this causes the girls to run in horror and subsequently causes Miss Clavel to faint. Madeline starts to fight Pepito, but Miss Clavel stops her and insists they leave. On their way out, Madeline steals Pepito's motorcycle keys. Later, in class, the girls are forced to write lines, explaining their behaviour.

On their walk, Madeline accidentally falls into the Seine River and is rescued by a stray dog named Geneviève. Madeline catches a cold, and when Miss Clavel and the girls leave on their walk, she watches Pepito complaining how he doesn't have his keys. Leopold starts it with a paper clip. Meanwhile, Geneviève finds Madeline and the two try to hide from Lord Covington who is showing the house. Eventually, Miss Clavel finds out about Geneviève, but compromises and says she can sleep in the shed and be kept, but she is not allowed to go in the school. Meanwhile, the girls sabotage the school, so visitors won't want to buy it. Lord Covington comes over that night, and has an argument with Miss Clavel about the school being sabotaged, but Madeline interrupts and admits she did it, trying to back up Miss Clavel, but calling Lord Covington "Cucuface". On his way back home, Covington discovers the dog and turns loose Geneviève despite the pleads of the girls.

They look for her the next day and go to a circus to cheer themselves up, but Madeline decides to run away with the circus because she feels lonely and wants a real home. She tells her best friend Aggie that she's leaving, and makes her swear not to tell a soul. Aggie swears and hugs her goodbye. Madeline walks away sadly and notices Leopold kidnapping Pepito with the help of the clowns called "The Idiots", since they were really henchmen of Leopold. Madeline tries to confront Leopold, who kidnaps her as well. Miss Clavel, not knowing they have been kidnapped, finds out that Madeline has run away and goes to find her. While on her way, she finds Genevieve and takes her along. The next day, Madeline and Pepito discover a motorcycle that the idiots used in their act. She tells Pepito to drive it, since he drove one, but Pepito reveals that he drives a Vespa.[1] Luckily, he is convinced by Madeline, and the two escape Leopold, who follows them. Miss Clavel sees them chasing them and goes after Leopold. Miss Clavel and Leopold are about to both hit Madeline and Pepito, but Pepito swerves away and Miss Clavel cuts Leopold off, making him and the idiots crash into a river. They are arrested, and Pepito and Madeline are reunited with their families.

But just when everything turns out right, Lord Covington comes and introduces the Ambassador of Uzbekistan,who agreed to buy the school. Madeline confronts Covington and convinces him that his wife is still with him, and in the school as well. Miss Clavel assures Madeline that whatever happens, they'll be together. But this is denied by Covington, who says that Madeline is right, and wishes he could do something about it, but has already sold the school. However, the Ambassador calls it off, letting everybody remain at the school. The movie ends with the girls running off, while Miss Clavel follows them. The real-life setting goes back to a storybook-like setting and the words "Fin" appear.


Filmed in Paris in 1997, the story is set in 1956 (rather than 1939).[2] Many of the landmarks from the books appear in the film, although some were too crowded with modern traffic to be used.[3]

Differences between the TV series and the movie[edit]

For reasons not entirely clear, the movie has a lot of significant discrepancies from both the books and TV series as follows:

  • Madeline is depicted as a redhead in the series, whereas in the film she has light brown/strawberry blonde hair.
  • In the dining room where the breaking bread routine takes place, the girls are shown eating full dinners consisting of lamb and vegetables, but in the series, they are shown to eat croissants or bread rolls on a regular basis while breaking their bread.
  • In the series, it is very clear that the girls are from various ethnic backgrounds, while in the film, the girls all appear to be British in origin. There are also several name changes, with names sounding more British in origin, compared to more French in the TV series, not to mention British accents instead of French accents in the TV series.
  • Lord Cucuface is renamed Lord Covington and his role is expanded. In the series, he appears to be merely a superintendent of sorts, while in the film, his grandmother-in-law opened the school and his late wife was a student and benefactress. Madeline still calls him Lord Cucuface both behind his back and on one occasion, directly to his face. He is not as naïve as he appears to be in the TV series either (example: believing that the girls could play instruments, but in reality they had only just recently discovered them in the attic).
  • Lord Covington is depicted as having a wife, but in the TV series, it is unclear if Lord Cucuface is married, divorced, a widower or a bachelor, let alone a father of children.
  • In the series, Lord Cucuface intended to sell the old house after it was deemed too old and too dangerous, although they soon had it repaired, whereas in the film, Lord Covington sells the old house after his wife's death.
  • In the movie, the girls and Pepito pull numerous pranks on the old house by unhinging doors, igniting firecrackers, leaving out stinky cheese and other things to dissuade Lord Covington from selling the school, but in the TV series, Lord Cucuface visited on a rainy day along with Madame Baguette and Madame Fromage; however, the old house was falling apart due to broken planks, a broken shutter, leaky roof, leaky taps and squeaky doors and after Madame Baguette had an accident when she slid down the banister and thus causing a large crash, Lord Cucuface announced that he was selling the old house because in his own words, it was "too old and too dangerous", despite the objections of the girls and Miss Clavel's suggestions of fixing it.
  • Pepito uses a guillotine to execute a mouse and proceeds to feed it to a snake for lunch, but in the TV series, he used the guillotine to decapitate poultry for eating.
  • Miss Clavel is portrayed as allergic to dogs, hence her sneezing, but in the TV series, she has nothing of the sort.
  • In the famous scene where Madeline accidentally falls into the Seine, she stands on the bridge to justify her actions towards Pepito at his birthday party to the girls when they are angry at her, but in the TV series, there was no animosity and in fact, she fell into the Seine out of careless tomfoolery.
  • The girls are portrayed as eating chicken and soon turning into vegetarians, but in the TV series, it was Pepito who ate chicken and subsequently became a vegetarian.
  • Pepito appears to be somewhat older than the girls and in place of a "hat" he drives a Vespa motorcycle. Unlike the TV series, where he reforms after one of his mischievous pranks goes wrong (involving a group of dogs and a cat), he appears to reform sometime during/after the scene where the girls pull various pranks at the old house. He also has a "tutor" in the film, who is absent in the series.
  • A lot of Pepito's mischief has been exaggerated, compared to the TV series. For instance, in the scene when the girls are in the kitchen and attempting to cook themselves, Pepito wears a hideous red demon mask and frightens all of the girls, making some of them scream, but in Madeline and the Bad Hat, Pepito frightened them in the form of a white ghost on a hot summer night while they were toasting marshmallows around a campfire, whereas in Madeline at Cooking School, he helped the girls to cook lunch for Lord Cucuface, because Mrs. Murphy, the usual cook/housekeeper, had fallen ill due to the flu.
  • In the scene of Pepito's birthday party, the girls' visit is cut short when Madeline releases the mice from a cage in Pepito's menagerie and everything erupts into chaos, forcing Miss Clavel to make them leave without having any birthday cake and write out "I will control my temper" a number of times as punishment, but that never happened in the TV series at all: in the episode Madeline in London, Madeline, Miss Clavel and the girls visited Pepito in London after he had moved there with his parents and they celebrated his birthday in a celebratory way, had a birthday cake, a large party and gave him a retired horse as a birthday present, whom he named Piccadilly, perhaps after the London street of the same name.
  • In the film, Madeline is a lot more outgoing, confident and somewhat of a leader, compared to her slightly more demure character in the series. She is also given a backstory, where she is made an orphan, while the TV series provides her with parents, notably in the eponymous pilot episode and Madeline's Christmas. The scene with the girls in the hospital room visiting Madeline makes this clear: in the book and aforementioned pilot episode, she has a dollhouse from "papa", but in the film, Vicki explains that the toys are for "charity cases". Madeline: Lost in Paris re-establishes her as an orphan in the series.
  • Genevieve in the book/TV series is depicted as a chocolate-brown mixed-breed dog, while the film appears to have her as a somewhat bulky Labrador/Golden Retriever with a blonde colouring.
  • While the TV series is somewhat unclear on whether Miss Clavel is a nun, nurse, boarding house "mother" or similar, the movie does make it quite clear that she is a nun. She also appears to have a soft spot for Madeline, treating her like her own daughter. Unlike her wholly optimistic TV counterpart, the film version does display signs of realism (and allows Madeline some leverage).
  • The cook is Mrs. Murphy in the series, but renamed Helen in the film.
  • The movie was banned in Russia until 2008 because Leopold, Pepito's tutor, was a Soviet Spy trying to kidnap Pepito to get money and to make Spain a Communist country.
  • The pilot episode of the TV series does not specify if or when Madeline was released from the hospital, but the movie depicts her as being released from the hospital and taken home to the vine-covered old house by Miss Clavel and Helen.
  • Dr. Cohn, the physician in the TV series, was replaced by a pair of orderlies and a stretcher to pick up Madeline when she had appendicitis.
  • When Miss Clavel and the girls go to the funfair, which ends with in a thunderstorm and thus forcing them to go back to the old house, Madeline runs away to join the circus, only to get kidnapped along with Pepito by two clowns and Leopold, but in the TV series, Madeline and Pepito were unintentionally left behind on the ferris wheel in the rain and they were well looked after by the gypsies and the circus performers.
  • Miss Clavel seems to be less nervous in the movie compared to the TV series, because she is more confident in driving a car, whereas in the episode Madeline and the Big Cheese, she is not a confident driver.
  • When the girls are visiting the famous Louvre, they are seen with sketch pads and Madeline retrieves her pad from Pepito, only to see hideous drawings and a threatening message "BEWARE!", but in the TV series, they visited the Louvre after Madeline had painted a picture of the old house and the workers at the gallery claimed it as their own after she accidentally left it behind - Pepito wasn't even present in that episode.
  • Detective Moreau was replaced by some policemen when they came to arrest Leopold and the other culprits who abducted Pepito and Madeline from the circus.

Home video[edit]

Madeline was released to home video in the same year, part of the Columbia TriStar Family Collection series. It was released to DVD in 2004.

Cast and crew[edit]

The children[edit]

  • Hatty Jones (Madeline)
  • Rachel Dennis (Lucinda)
  • Eloise Eonnet (Sylvette)
  • Morgane Farcat (Marie-Odile)
  • Pilar Garrard (Beatrice)
  • Emilie Jessula (Elizabeth)
  • Alice Lavaud (Veronica)
  • Christina Mangani (Chantal)
  • Jessica Mason (Serena)
  • Alix Ponchon (Lolo)
  • Bianca Strohmann (Vicki/Victoria)
  • Clare Thomas (Aggie)
  • Kristian De La Osa (Pepito)

The adults[edit]


This film received mixed reviews upon release; it now has 64% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 28 reviews. On their TV show, Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert awarded the film with "Two Thumbs Up" (see photo of film). Nell Minow of Common Sense Media said that the movie was "great for young kids and fans of the books." AOL movie critic Brandon Judell said of it, "No horribly arch double entendres to draw in audiences who can't spend two hours in a theater without having their libido massaged." Jeffery Huston called it "a disarming, charming fable so artfully crafted that adults will fall under its spell." Conversely, John R. McEwen gave a negative review, stating that the movie was: "...Adequately simple for children, though perhaps a bit pedestrian for adults."


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