Kit Kittredge: An American Girl isn't just a sleepy but wholesome family film. It's the first big-screen extension of the all-encompassing American Girl line of dolls and ancillary clothes, books, etc. The film's Depression-era values pointedly stray with the brand's – most notably with Kit's feed-sack dress.
Little Miss Sunshine's Abigail Breslin plays Kit, an upper-middle-class girl in 1933 Cincinnati who aspires to be a newspaper reporter, and has moxie to match His Girl Friday's Rosalind Russell. The Depression takes a toll on Kit's family, and when her father (Chris O'Donnell) loses his job at a car dealership, he takes off to seek work in Chicago. Worried that each setback brings them closer to the poorhouse, Kit and her mother (Julia Ormond) take in boarders (including Joan Cusack, Stanley Tucci and "30 Rock's" Jane Krakowski), sell eggs, and make dresses from feed-sack fabric. Kit worries that it'll be a badge of shame, but it turns out to be a smart little outfit.
Not surprisingly, American Girl sells the "sleeveless floral dress her mother made from a chicken-feed sack" (along with matching Mary Jane shoes and a flower barrette) for $24. A garment that embodies resourceful thrift in the film is an emblem of conspicuous consumption as a real-life toy. Wouldn't it be better to follow the Kittredges' example and make toys for your child, rather than buying them?
Viewed outside the context of the merchandise, Kit Kittredge offers tame family fare that evokes the Depression-era dramedy Paper Moon but doesn't equal it. To the film's credit, it engages in serious issues beyond Kit's Nancy Drew-style sleuthing, such as families losing their homes and splitting up during harsh times. The happy ending clears the names of the poor but honest hobos, but doesn't resolve all of the family's problems.
Parents relieved to find a film free of intense action and vulgar humor may end up longing for more laughs or thrills while waiting out Kit's sentiment. And if I had a dollar for every time the film uses the word "hobo," I could afford the $250 Kit Kittredge tree house.