The magic of A Little Princess (1995)

January 07, 2019



When I was a kid, one of my favorite movies was A Little Princess. I saw it at the movies when it came out, I had a well-worn VHS copy, and my dad got me a giant subway-size poster to hang up in my bedroom. It's always been one of my dad's favorite movies as well, so when I saw that it was playing at The Film Society at Lincoln Center I got us tickets to see it on the big screen.

Going into this I KNEW I was going to cry-- I feel like anyone with half a heart would cry. But as someone who is very close with my dad, Sarah's relationship with her "Papa," and the agony that they go through when they're separated, stretches the walls of my heart, makes my throat tense up to stop an unavoidable weep. When she draws the chalk circle around her and Emily in the attic, when she sees her father but he doesn't recognize her, when he finally remembers, "Sarah!!!" Against my will, I get so emotional watching movies. I bite my cheek and dig my fingernails into my palm, trying so hard to fight it back. But movies are *meant* to move us. And while some films might tease us and trick us into feeling something with swells of music or a hearty serving of cheese, A Little Princess is so authentic, earnest, and pure that it actually felt wrong to try to throttle my tears.

I just felt so much, so intensely. This movie was such a big part of my childhood that I felt an overwhelming sadness that I'm not a kid anymore. I don't know if everyone experiences this or if it's a particular problem with me, but I loved being a child and sometimes I mourn for that part of my life being so finished, and so far removed from where I am now. I also felt the kind of nostaglia that makes you happy, remembering your own childhood with sweet fondness. When Sarah runs to spy on her toys to see if they've moved while she left the room, I instantly remembered doing that myself. I felt so much love for the connection that I have with my own dad, so much gratitude that I have a father who has always treated me like A Little Princess and ended up being one of my very best friends.

And I felt magic. I can't think of any other movie I have ever seen - Disney animations included - that conveyed the same sense of magic and enchantment and wonder. And it's such a tactile charm. When Sarah runs her fingers across the stitching on the pillow that Becky made for her, Sarah and Becky's quilted silk robes, the softness of the snow when Sarah spins around in the window, the plush slippers that Sarah leaves for Becky... these are beautiful, magical moments that feel real and tangible somehow. Even small directorial decisions like splitting moments up into three quick clips, or almost undetectable slowing of poignant scenes, adds to the feeling that the magic Sarah believes in is real and we're witnessing it for ourselves.

Seeing this at the movies again, 24 years after I saw it for the first time, was a moving and captivating experience, and one that made me realize I need to rekindle my childhood ability to see the magic in everyday life.

1 comment:

Hamlette said...

I've never seen this version, but I love the book. And I loved reading about your nostalgia and your emotional reaction to the film. Little Women (1995) is like that for me -- so many, many memories attached to it, memories of watching it with my mom, with my friends at slumber parties, and with my college friends. And, now, with my own kids. I got to see it at the theater last month, and cried throughout it. But in a happy way, most of the time.

Like you, I sometimes mourn my lost, finished, ended childhood. I stubbornly insist that I will never fully "grow up" and prefer to call myself an "adult," not a "grown-up." Because the joy, wonder, and enthusiasm of childhood are very precious to me, and I don't ever want to fully lose or abandon them.