A Little Princess

Finally caught up with Alfonso Cuaron's "A Little Princess," and I can't believe this movie sank into obscurity without much of a splash. More than Agnieszka Holland's The Secret Garden, this has the lushness of period detail and colored photography to create a world stylized enough to bring Burnett's Victorian children's novel to life.

Cuaron uses CGI effects to portray Sara's stories about Rama's quest to rescue Sita from the monstrous Ravana, but the effects have the look of storybook illustrations; they have a magic I wouldn't have believed possible in CGI--even Ravana, that multi-headed dragon, has a spiky, angular charm. And the script cleverly mixes modern egalitarianism with Burnett's Victorian sensibilities--Becky becomes an adopted sister instead of a hired maid, the term "Princess" is meant to apply to all girls, and Sara's character is retinkered to be a quieter, more gracious personality. Even better is the use of World War 1 as a device to separate Sara from her father, and how this is cleverly linked to her stories--Rama's quest for Sita (both Rama and Sara's father are played by the same actor) becomes a trek through the Allied trenches, while Ravana's arrows emit poisonously yellow mustard gas...

Cuaron builds one breathlessly gorgeous visual sequence after another, from the first night Sara learns the news of her father's death, thru the trip to the marketplace where she's given money to buy a cinammon roll, to the final sequence of escape and resolution. If he can do this with Burnett's novel, I can imagine what the third Harry Potter movie might look and feel like.

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