Childhood in Paris
Release Date: July 10, 1998
Starring: Frances McDormand, Nigel
Hawthorne, Hatty Jones, Ben
Daniels, Arturo Venegas, &
Genre: Children's Comedy
Runtime: 85 minutes
Distributor: TriStar Pictures
Director: Daisy von Scherler Mayer
Executive Producer: Stanley R. Jaffe
Producer: Saul Cooper, Pancho Kohner &
Writer: Malia Scotch Marmo, Mark Levin
& Jennifer Flackett
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Mr. John Calley, Chairman & CEO
Sony Pictures Entertainment
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Culver City, CA 90232-3195
The script weaves four of the six Bemelmans books (MADELINE, MADELINE AND THE BAD HAT, MADELINE'S RESCUE, and MADELINE AND THE GYPSIES) into a new story set in the mid-1950s. At the start of the movie, Madeline crumples over in pain and is whisked off to the hospital where she loses her appendix but gains an awesome cure. On her return to the school, all the girls want their appendix out.
When Madeline opposes the evening's dinner because it is a chicken that she met earlier in the day alive, Lord Covington takes Miss Clavel aside and tells her he is going to close the school. He doesn't give her a reason, but the audience knows he is suffering over the recent death of his wife. When Lord Covington, or Lord Cucuface as the girls calls him, begins to show off the house to potential buyers, including an Indian dignitary couple who states that the house has good "Karma," Madeline masterminds a plan to scare them off. Madeline tells Pepito, the devilish son of the Spanish Ambassador who moves in next door, that he needs to be very quite when the house is being shown. Naturally, Pepito makes a lot of noise, with firecrackers, because he is a bit of a trickster. The girls are thrilled, but Lord Covington is not amused.
Madeline and the girls take a walk through Paris. Madeline falls into the Seine river, but a dog rescues her. The dog comes around later, so the girls name her Genevieve and hide her in the backyard tool shed.
When Pepito's shifty tutor, Leopold, takes him to the circus, Madeline discovers his plot to kidnap Pepito with the aid of bumbling circus performers known as the Idiots Popopov. When Madeline decides to run away with the circus because she is losing her home, she is kidnapped with Pepito. Miss Clavel comes to the rescue, but Madeline and Pepito use their wits to escape. Finally, using her childlike clarity to see into the aching heart of Lord Covington, Madeline makes a touching, last-minute effort to save the school.
This movie is very innocuous and has many moral elements. Miss Clavel prays before dinner and before bed. She tells Leopold, who seems at one point to be getting a little fresh, that she prays on her day off. Madeline can be seen as a little rebellious, but she is more precocious and active than rebellious. She has a good heart and doesn't do anything explicitly wrong. In fact, she learns many lessons. Ultimately, she is very respectful of authority and demonstrates love to someone she has found hard to love in the past.
The Paris cityscapes are very beautiful. The acting is fresh, as is the music. Along the way, the story introduces the audience to some French history, French architecture and some fine art.
Because the screenplay is a mixture of four short Madeline stories, it isn't very cohesive. Sometimes it is as if the unspoken narrator is saying, "and then the girls did this, and then the girls did that, and then they did this." It is a stringing along of smaller incidents, with little main plot to drive the story forward. It is established that Lord Covington wants to shut the school down near the beginning, but few of the scenes attempt to bring resolution to this story. However, few girl audience members will care. Boys may be bored, as the action is very mild, and, after all, the protagonists are girls who are "cute as a button."
This movie easily could have been rated G with the removal of two uses of the word "damn." It is very clean, very wholesome, very family friendly. Your daughter may love it. Your son may not. It is one of the few movies out this summer that has little, if next to no, objectionable material in it. Even Disney's G rated MULAN can't say that. Madeline is a fine effort at a fine and classic children's series.