Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Little girls in a Parisian boarding school, having jolly japes, is hardly the stuff of the Nineties, especially when performances are on the level of an end-of-term school play. The movie is based on Ludwig Bemelmans' classic children's books that first appeared in 1939. Daisy von Scherler Mayer, a native New Yorker, attempts to establish an old-fashioned European feel to the film. Instead, it looks privileged and innocent, without the benefit of charm.

Frances McDormand is the nun in charge, who discovers that cold-hearted Lord Covington (Nigel Hawthorne) intends to sell the building. Madeline (Hatty Jones) is an orphan. If the school closes, she has nowhere to go. There are only 12 girls in the place and a buxom French cook. Next door is the Spanish embassy. The son of the ambassador is a spoilt little brat. He and Madeline become pals and together they thwart a gang of rotten kidnappers. It's frightfully frightful, not funny enough to be considered a live action cartoon.

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McDormand puts professional mettle into the script's backbone and Hawthorne supports her gallantly, despite having a one-dimensional role. Although filmed in Paris, there is no sense of France. Giggly fun in the dorm could have happened in leafy London. Nine-year-old Jones eventually wins you round. She has a gutsy determination about her. In a few years, she will be captain of hockey, no doubt, despite being the smallest player on the team.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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Jolly japes at a Parisian boarding school.
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