Madeline (1998) starring Frances McDormand, Nigel Hawthorne, Hatty Jones, Ben Daniels, Chantal Neuwirth, Kristian de la Osa, Clare Thomas directed by Daisy von Scherler Mayer Movie Review

Madeline (1998)   3/53/53/53/53/5

Hatty Jones as Madeline in Madeline (1998)

Little Orphan Madeline

"Madeline" is based upon the classic books of Ludwig Bemelmans, that is classic books which I had never even heard of but appear to be very popular. And it seems that those who know Bemelmans' books adore this movie as it is said to capture the essence of his stories about 12 little girls. The trouble is that if you haven't read his books "Madeline" ends up charming, wonderfully inoffensive but seemingly unfocussed as it busies itself with various little episodes rather than focussing on a main storyline, when it eventually does it comes good and grabs your attention but it is a long wait.

In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines, lived twelve little girls in two straight lines, one of those girls was orphan Madeline (Hatty Jones) who always managed to find herself in trouble much to the concern of their teacher Miss Clavel (Frances McDormand - Mississippi Burning). But after having been rushed to hospital with appendicitis and saved from the river by a dog after falling of a bridge Madeline is more concerned that Lord Covington (Nigel Hawthorne - Demolition Man) is going to sell the school and leave her homeless. Having decided to run off with the circus she discovers a plot to kidnap her neighbour Pepito (Kristian de la Osa), the son on the Spanish Ambassador.

Frances McDormand as Miss Clavel in Madeline (1998)

"Madeline" is a wonderfully charming little movie with the most offensive it gets being the word poop. It also features some wonderful writing and jokes which are simple but well though out. Basically "Madeline" is a cut above the usual brainless stuff churned out for younger audiences and doesn't just recycle old ideas even if it does go a bit too Hollywood towards the end.

But here is the trouble as whilst "Madeline" is charming and wonderful family entertainment it is very much a movie for those who know the books and enjoy all the little adventures which Bemelmans created. In fact various stories from his books are used in the movie from Madeline's appendicitis to falling off the bridge and being saved by a dog. But unless you are used to this "Madeline" feels unfocussed, feeding all these little episodes which don't seem to be going anywhere before finally settling on the two main ones which is Lord Covington planning to sell the school and Pepito being kidnapped.

But again it is all very pleasant and much of that comes from the wonderful sets which I don't know how accurate they are to Bemelmans' illustrations but certainly add a touch of charm to the movie. And so do all the cast with Frances McDormand being warm and friendly as Miss Clavel whilst Hatty Jones is cute but feisty as Madeline. In fact all the children are good from Clare Thomas who plays Aggie to Kristian de la Osa as Pepito with the wonderful Nigel Hawthorne perfectly cast as the mean Lord Covington.

What this all boils down to is that "Madeline" is a charming, inoffensive bit of family entertainment which you could leave your children watching with no fear of anything unsavoury coming on screen. But it is a movie which seems to hold an extra bit of charm for those familiar with Ludwig Bemelmans' stories and can seem disjointed for those not familiar with them.