If you move in circles where Bratz or the ubiquitous Barbie are familiar, then you know that American Girl has a special place in the world of dollies.
There are clothes and books and all manner of paraphernalia associated with the line of dolls, and now there's a feature film -- Kit Kittredge: An American Girl.
Like the dolls, the movie is beautifully crafted and hugely appealing.
Kit Kittredge: An American Girl is a simple case of a good story, well told.
Abigail Breslin stars as Kit, a girl of about 11 growing up in Cincinnati during the Depression. Kit aspires to be a reporter, and wants desperately to be published in a big city newspaper.
She even submits stories to the Cincinnati Register, bravely handing them over to the intimidating editor (Wallace Shawn).
All around Kit, the Depression takes its toll. Neighbours have their houses seized by the bank, and people she knows have to find their meals at a soup kitchen. When Kit's father (Chris O'Donnell) loses his business, Kit fears the worst. He does indeed leave home to find work in Chicago, but her mother (Julia Ormond) takes in boarders in order to keep the family house.
Those boarders include a former magician (Stanley Tucci), a librarian (Joan Cusack), a dance teacher (Jane Krakowski) and one of Kit's classmates, Stirling (Zach Mills).
It's quite a crowd, and now the stage is set for adventure.
Two 'hobo' kids, Will and Countee (Max Thieriot and Willow Smith) are helping out at Kit's house in exchange for food.
Will is a hard-working young man and he watches over the younger Countee, and Kit and her friends make them welcome. But many people are afraid of the hobos who have become an increasingly familiar sight, courtesy of the economy. And when a series of robberies takes place in Kit's neighbourhood, eyewitnesses say hobos are to blame. Kit and her buddies go sleuthing as they hope to prove otherwise.
Kit Kittredge: An American Girl offers an interesting mix of entertainment and education.
The setting and the period details -- not an iPod or a computer in sight, of course -- bring home a specific chapter in history.
At the same time, the story has plenty of contemporary elements, particularly in its depiction of the gap between the haves and the have-nots.
On the role-model front, Kit is ideal -- she is smart, brave, industrious, curious and interested in fair play.
The film's director, Sarnia-born Patricia Rozema, has said she wanted to make a movie her own children could see. As she's thoughtfully given this smart picture terrific performances, beautifully paced action, mystery, adventure and old-fashioned character development, it's a movie everybody else's children will want to see, too.
Accompanying adults will likewise really enjoy Kit Kittredge: An American Girl.
(This film is rated G)