Harriet, Napoleon and Little Miss Sunshine: A Trio of Defiant Movie Kids

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Back in Nickelodeon’s golden age, 1996, they released their first film, Harriet the Spy. It was very jazzy, quirky, colorful, (our VHS copy is bright orange), and kind of timeless. It is nearly impossible to tell when the story takes place, with the vintage costumes, cars and toys. The huge baggy pants with the high waist may be a tip-off that we’re in the 90s, maybe. And the fact that Michelle Trachtenberg, Harriet herself, is very young.

But a movie that follows a kid around and just stares at them, letting them tell their story, or not, is a rare thing. I’ve seen it a few times. Maybe three. And each time it reminded me of another time I’d seen it. So that’s why I’m comparing the three.

The jazz may be reason enough to recommend Harriet the Spy. There are big trumpet blasts, be-bop, and lively percussion. Also? It has got to be the most colorful movie ever made. From the vivid clothing to the garden featuring a rainbow of soda bottles, to Eartha Kitt’s pink hair, Harriet the Spy pops with color. The plot is fairly intense pre-teen angst—being original vs fitting in. Being a Nickelodeon product, the kids get pretty nasty to each other, and the resolution is kind of flip, but it works in its own way.

 

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It would be many years before Napoleon Dynamite hit the scene, but well worth the wait. Napoleon and Harriet both messed with me as far as a time stamp goes. Those strange costumes—maybe that’s the deal with originality? You don’t belong to your era? So both Harriet and Napoleon wear their pants pulled up unnaturally high, and both films feature time warped vehicles. (Napoleon’s Uncle Rico is fixated on his orange 1975 Dodge Santana Campervan). And while Harriet has got Nickelodeon written all over it, you can tell that Napoleon Dynamite is an MTV movie. You can also tell that MTV and Nickelodeon are owned by the same parent company, Viacom. There’s just something about a Viacom movie. Maybe it’s the close attention to details in the music.

Whereas Harriet had definite ideas of who she was and where she was going—at 11 years old no less—Napoleon isn’t sure what’s going to happen tomorrow, let alone in the future. He sings in the glee club, likes to talk stuff about his ninja skills, and unflinchingly performs disgusting agricultural jobs in his town of Preston, Idaho. He would seem aimless, and so would the movie, if Napoleon wasn’t so funny. I mean laugh out loud funny. I expected to find a lot of inside jokes and ironic humor in this movie, but there is a context for the humor, and you won’t be the only person in the room laughing.

 

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Finally, we have Little Miss Sunshine. Ironically, this independent film is the least child friendly of the trio, considering it has the youngest child featured. Seven-year-old Olive, (Abigail Breslin) must travel from New Mexico to California in two days for a beauty pageant. She and her family, consisting of parents, grandfather, uncle, and older brother all pile into the ancient Volkswagen T2 Microbus for the 800 mile trip.

There’s that old car theme again. It’s also set in the Southwest, like Napeoleon Dynamite. The characters in Little Miss Sunshine are just as quirky and vivid as the other two films, but Alan Arkin, as Olive’s grandfather, Edwin overshoots the rest of the cast. Greg Kinnear, as Olive’s father Richard is funny in a smirking, understated way, and Steve Carrell is uncharacteristically low-key in his role as the depressed gay uncle on suicide watch. Alan Arkin is foul-mouthed, irreverent, drug addicted, and otherwise completely shocking. It is hard to pay attention to anyone else when he’s on the screen.

But the movie saves some of its shock for later on, so pace yourself.

On second thought, Little Miss Sunshine is not the same kind of movie that follows the kid around and tells the story through them. The kid in that one remains a mystery throughout. You’re never even sure how she feels about doing the pageant, why she’s doing it, or anything.

Nickelodeon would have told us.

You can watch the Trio of Defiant Movie Kids on Amazon Video on Demand.

3 Trackbacks

  1. By Tweets that mention Harriet, Napoleon and Little Miss Sunshine: A Trio of Defiant Movie Kids – tubeCentric.tv -- Topsy.com on July 24, 2010 at 12:04 am

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Angela Gray, tube Centric. tube Centric said: New post: Harriet, Napoleon and Little Miss Sunshine: A Trio of Defiant Movie Kids http://bit.ly/9bejzt [...]

  2. By Netflix 100: #15: Inside Man - tubeCentric.tv on August 19, 2010 at 8:33 pm

    [...] list at some point. Number 13 on the Netflix 100 is Little Miss Sunshine, which I’ve reviewed here, and #14 is another movie I’ve already reviewed: Slumdog [...]

  3. [...] Diary Of A Wimpy Kid, #6 on the list, also won me over with its trailer. What can I say? I’m a sucker for an awkward coming of age story, ala Harriet the Spy. [...]

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