Rated: Canada – PG (parental guidance?! probably because of Hallowe’en sequence) ; USA – Approved
Length: 113 min.
Age: 4 and up. (more for comprehension and attention span)
Scary Factor: Hallowe’en scene (see below)
Intense stuff: the Christmas Eve scene with the snowmen makes me cry, but I don’t think children will be such marshmallows over it!
Interests: history, family, musicals, song and dance, old movies
Next: Judy Garland: The Wizard of Oz
A warm portrait of a family just after the turn of the century… the last century that is. This is a loose collection of episodes depicting a year in the life of a large, wealthy family in St. Louis: befuddled father, unflappable mother, spry grandfather, college-bound son, two boy-crazy elder daughters, two gleefully naughty younger daughters, and a dour cook. Their bustling home life is shaken when father announces they are going to move to New York right after Christmas. The children are sad to uproot their lives (and putative love lives) in their home town, especially on the eve of the St. Louis World Fair! Things come to a head on Christmas Eve – Judy sings a heartbreaking “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” to her little sister, who impulsively runs outside to destroy their snowmen rather than leave them behind. This is probably a spoiler, but suffice to say that father has a change of heart and all ends well… Did I mention too that it’s a terrific musical with several outstanding numbers, “The Trolley Song”, “The Boy Next Door”, and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” among them.
The only scene of concern in this film is the Hallowe’en night sequence, in which the neighbourhood children run amok in a way totally foreign to today’s audiences. The ghoulish youngsters toss chairs into a large bonfire and roam the streets without any grownup supervision. Their violent and bloody talk is all show of course – when they claim they’ve “killed” someone it simply means they’ve rung the doorbell and thrown flour into their face. Once this is clear to viewers there shouldn’t be any further alarm. (It’s amusing that by far the scariest people in the entire movie are the children!)
The best part of this spooky sequence is that Tootie summons up every ounce of her courage to visit the scariest house all by herself, and by doing so wins the respect of all the bigger kids – this should resonate strongly with viewers!
At the end of the evening Tootie has a slight accident and is hurt, but this happens offscreen so it shouldn’t be too upsetting.
All in all this is a charming slice of family life in a past era. Children will be interested in the ways life was different then – the old-fashioned telephone, the ice man, the gaslights, the horse-drawn carriages. A further word of explanation may be required for the scene in which Garland is trussed up so tightly in her corset that she can barely move. (This might be a good conversation starter about being a slave to fashion!)
The family relationships are all amusing and realistic. And the fact that the youngest daughters are total ‘hoodlums’ (in the words of their big brother), just makes the family more entertaining and real. The heart of the conflict, in which the children don’t want to move to another town, is eminently kid-relateable; any child would be alarmed at the thought of having to move away from their friends.
Another lesson in family conflict occurs during the scene when father announces the move. Expecting happy excitement, his grand announcement causes only outrage and tears. The distraught daughters, and grandpa too, all storm off to their rooms while father sulks in the living room. Mother calmly walks to the piano and starts to play. When father joins her in a duet the other members of the family quietly rejoin them, helping themselves to the previously abandoned cake and ice cream. It’s a lovely show of how families stick together, even when they disagree.