The Penniless Princess: Part 1

Okay, kiddies, let’s start 2017 off with some lighthearted fun.  I think we need it after this past year, when seriously only ONE good thing happened.  (Mind you, it was a big thing, and awesome!)

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And speaking of classic literature for girls, I happen to have been kinda obsessed with A Little Princess since I was about seven.  So this review will have copious comparisons to both the book, and the other movies/miniseries based on it.

First of all, this appears to be the first time A Little Princess has been Christianized.  And A Little Princess is decidedly not a Christian book.  In fact, there are more (and more serious) references to the Hindu gods of Sara’s childhood in India than there are to the Christian God.  It would appear that Sara has a very egalitarian view of religion, saying “God bless you” to someone, yet also respecting other belief systems.  The same goes for Ram Dass, who at one point is of the opinion that Carrisford’s Christian God could lead him to Sara.

(Okay, I realize I’m naming names and all, so obviously I’ll be spoiler-rich in this critique, all the way along.  Fortunately, A Little Princess is the in the public domain, as are two of the movies, the 1917 Mary Pickford treatment, and the Shirley Temple version from 1939.

A Little Princess at Project Gutenberg

 

Jesus doesn’t even rate a mention in the book.  Ironically, this is a criticism frequently made of VeggieTales in general by Christians: they mostly do Old Testament stories, and generally mention God, but hardly ever Jesus.

I’ll also say, by way of intro, that the VeggieTales have always kinda freaked me out.  I never watched them as a kid, so I have no nostalgia associated with them.  And frankly, their lack of arms and legs confuses and frightens me, especially when things they are “holding” simply levitate in front of them.

And I also am weirded out by the way most of the veggies look like they have already been chopped with a knife!  I mean, just look at this horrific shit:

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They’re ready to be tossed in a salad right now!  So they should not be singing!

Oh well.  Enough with my terror of vegetables that have clearly been infected with rage virus.  On with the story!

The Penniless Princess opens as all VeggieTales…um…tales do: with that obnoxious opening song, followed by Larry the Cuke and Bob the To-mah-to talking about what we’re going to see.

I admit, some of the VeggieTales humor meant to appeal to adults is kinda cute and charming.

“Ah, the classics.  They are so very classy.”

Larry reads a letter from some little girl from England, who has trouble being nice when people are assholes to her.

And so this segues into the story of Sara Crewe, a rhubarb spawned of a cucumber (Larry the Cuke also plays her dad), fresh off the boat from Africa and WRONG.

Sara Crewe grew up in India, not Africa.  So we are left with the question of whether all foreign places are basically the same to the writers or (what I consider the more likely option) they were basing this story more on the Shirley Temple version than the actual book.

(Granted, Shirley Temple’s Sara Crewe was from India, too, but the story was based around Africa itself, with the Boer War (specifically, the Siege of Mafeking) a big part of the story.

But honestly, I can’t otherwise imagine why they would randomly change where Sara grew up.

Anyway, the jokes-for-grown-ups start right off the bat…

“Musicals are so unrealistic!” [cries a random veggie]  “People just bursting into song for no reason.”

…and the veggies do indeed burst into song for no reason.  Now, an immediate song in a musical can have good reason: it can establish the setting and quickly and clearly introduce the main characters.  Think “Good Morning, Baltimore” in Hairspray or “Skid Row” in Little Shop of Horrors.

Here, the song more introduces us to the theme: that Sara is a princess not just because she is her daddy’s little princess, but because she is also “daughter of a King” (God).  This is the most significant change from the book…the why of “princess.”  The book itself, and the very best (by a lot) screen version of it, the 1986 miniseries, demonstrate that Sara is a princess because she is trying to behave like a princess behaves.  And she means that in the very best sense: princesses are supposed to be generous and kind and gracious and aware of all their privileges.

Other versions tweak this considerably: the insufferable (I know, voice crying in the wilderness) 1995 version simply states that all girls are princesses, because…well, because all girls are princesses, silly!  And the Shirley Temple version simply seems to think Sara is a princess because she’s rich.

In fact, The Penniless Princess takes away more than just the why of princess; it takes away the agency of the princess in question.  See, the whole behave-like-a-princess thing was Sara’s own idea, her unique personal philosophy.  And a decidedly unreligious philosophy, at that.  When things were at their worst, Sara didn’t turn to Jesus, but to her own “imaginings” and ideas.  And if there’s one thing that’s antithetical to modern RTC-anity, it’s having a unique personal philosophy that has nothing to do with Jesus.  Leaning on your own understanding, if you will, and being (gasp!) self-reliant.

Anyway, I gather that most of these VeggieTales songs are meant to be sung along with by kids, but I find this first one thoroughly uninspiring.  And not just because I don’t share the belief system, but because of lyrics like these:

My little princess
You’ll never guess
How much love that
Your one life can bring

My little princess
I confess
For you are loved by me
And loved by the King

And Sara doesn’t even have one line to sing in this whole song.

And so, we arrive at The Minchin School for Lovely Little Ladies, which I consider a cute play on the school’s title.  At least, it saves parents having to Google the words “Select Seminary.”

And next time, we’ll meet Miss Minchin!

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The one and only REAL Miss Minchin.

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Posted on January 5, 2017, in The Penniless Princess. Bookmark the permalink. 19 Comments.

  1. I totally have nostalgia goggles for VeggieTales, but I do have to admit that it’s a WEIRD aesthetic.

  2. The only version of A Little Princess I’ve seen was the 1995 version, so I’m kind of biased in favor of it. I’ve also seen a little bit of VeggieTales, so I’m not weirded out by how they look and move. I don’t care for the religious message in the VeggieTales cartoons of course, but I like the jokes and songs they have that aren’t about religion.

  3. I’ve never seen a movie version that I liked. Or one that didn’t have her father turn out to actually be still alive. There may be a connection there.

  4. I’ve never heard of A Little Princess, period. Is it so much bigger in the USA?

    • It’s an English story (though they re-set one movie version in New York City). It’s a classic “girls lit” story in the same spirit as Little Women or Anne of Green Gables. And it’s probably the lesser known of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s books, since she also wrote The Secret Garden and Little Lord Fauntleroy.

  5. I watched Veggie Tales for a while before losing interest. Have to say for Christian art, it’s quite charming. Has some nice Monty Python touches were the defenders of Jericho attack Joshua’s forces with slushies and the Ninevites are notorious for slapping people with fish. In fact, I highly recommend their movie-length adaptation of the book of Jonah. Good movie and it sets the moral of the story to a Damn catchy tune. “Jonah was a prophet/ who never really got it.”

  6. I watched VeggieTales as a child. The aesthetic doesn’t bother me much. Usually what irks me about VeggieTales is their source material, the Bible. Let’s face it, a lot of bible stories aren’t really appropriate for children.

    But sometimes, I do have an issue with the way VeggieTales takes the source material and makes it even MORE creepy. For example, in their Esther story, instead of wanting to kill all the Jews, Hayman wants to send them to “the Island of Perpetual Tickling.”

    Even as a super young child, this struck me as a fate worse than death. I literally would rather have died.

    That particular episode kinda horrified me.

    Contrasted with the somewhat darker episode where they’re doing Shadrach, Meshack, and Abednego in the fiery furnace. In that one, the 3 men actually get thrown into the furnace and think they are about to die. That was much less traumatizing to watch. In fact, I had no problem at all with that as a child.

    I don’t usually have an issue with people taking creative license with the source material, but don’t try to make it even MORE creepy than it already is.

    I haven’t seen Penniless Princess, and am eager to see how this plays out.

    I’m happy you’re doing this. It’s really hard to find critiques of VeggieTales that aren’t 100% positive. I mean, I overall like the show, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t problems with it.

  7. Was that the one where “Mr. Nezzer” was forcing people to bow to a giant chocolate rabbit?

    …man, that was a weird show.

    • That was the story of the 3 wise men in the fiery furnace, yes: Shadrach, Meschack, and Abednego.

      It didn’t seem weird as a child, but looking back on it as an adult….

      In the actual bible story, the Israelites were slaves. I can kind of understand wanting to gloss over that in a show for kids that WASN’T also going to have a message of “slavery is bad.”

      However, if you look at what Mr. Nezzer as an adult, you realize that he wasn’t actually this strict horrible boss the movie made him out to be. In the opening song, he tells Laura the Carrot that since she was 2 minutes late, it’s coming out of her paycheck. Well, YEAH. Isn’t that kinda what happens in the real world?

      And the whole thing about “We start at 8 and we don’t get lunch till 3,” with the way my workplace is, it’s like wow, you get a lunch period? stfu and stop whining, lol.

      I guess it would seem kinda weird if one wasn’t familiar with the Biblical story….or even if you were and just thought it was a really weird take on it?

  8. The closest I ever got to Veggietales was a couple episodes of 3-2-1 Penguins! Which were entertaining enough, but the Biblical messages felt very grafted-on. Especially since I remembered getting most of the same moral lessons a generation earlier from cartoons like He-Man.

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