Watching a movie through the eyes of your ten-year old self, might just garner slightly different feelings than when you are seeing that movie once more, ten or twenty or forty years down the road. Simply put, movies you loved as a kid doesn’t mean you’ll love them still as an adult. Well, it also doesn’t mean you’ll hate them. Thankfully, A Little Princess belongs to and even goes beyond the latter category. It’s been twenty years since I last saw this film, and surprisingly my appreciation for it just grew tenfold. And here’s why:
1. The Imagery
It has escaped my memory how beautifully shot the movie is. And as far as family movies go, rich imagery is something we don’t often see in the said genre. There is a certain vibrancy to the colors of this film. The warm orange hues, the thick browns, the lavish greens. And I love the natural light that penetrates Sarah’s room like long shards of knives, and the flurry of snow that swirls all around like white fairy dust. And I love how Miss Minchin’s boarding school looks. You can feel how imposing it is. It’s like a gothic, Victorian mansion with endless corridors and numerous doors that feels like it’s going to swallow you whole. Everything just looks so fairy-tale like, even the grey, gloomy streets of London. And after checking IMDB, it comes as no surprise that the director of photography is one Emmanuel Lubezki. Or should I say “the” Emmanuel Lubezki.
2. The Symbolism
I wasn’t a particularly bright kid, so it comes as no surprise that all these hidden meanings flew past my eight year old noggin. I only realized now, as an adult, the true use of the Ramayana myth in the movie. It is more than just a fanciful story to entertain Sarah and her friends. It mirrors the lives of Sarah and Capt. Crewe, their story is a heroes journey, a struggle that involves grief, and war, and separation, and longing. And of course, there is a very strong emphasis on what “stories” represent. It is a child’s means of understanding and navigating the adult world, they are more than mere yarn, spun to amuse kids.
3. Eleanor Bron as Miss Minchin
I never truly realized how amazing Eleanor Bron’s portrayal of Miss Minchin is. It is less moustache twirly than I remembered it to be. There seems to be that hint of vulnerability and restraint under that hoity-toity facade. There is this bit where Sarah utters my absolute favorite line in the movie: “All girls are! (princesses) Didn’t your father ever told you that? Didn’t he?” And Miss Minchin storms off in a huff locking Sarah and Becky in the attic, only to lean back against the locked doors and wipe a tear from her trembling cheek. That was just devastating.
4. The Storytelling
I have read that the screenplay deviated a bit from the original source material, a book of the same name by Frances Hodgson Burnett. They added a few changes here and there, and I must say it has lent a more lively and spirited quality to the narrative. There are a few far-fetched and overly dramatic moments, but they made it work with smooth and fluid storytelling.
A Little Princess was such a magical movie to me then, and it has become even more enchanting to me now. Heck it feels like an entirely different movie altogether. It’s fantastic how Alfonso Cuaron can go from this to Children of Men and Gravity. And this isn’t just a story about a plucky heroine, it goes beyond that to deliver a message of female empowerment, because all girls are princesses!