The Penniless Princess, Part 3
Time for Sara’s birthday party, the pivotal moment in the story when she loses everything. Again, The Penniless Princess plays pretty fair with the original—a pivotal moment is kept, where Sara all but forces Miss Minchin to allow Becky to stay at her party.
But, for every time TPP stays true to the story, we need a departure. In the book, Becky made Sara a present for her birthday: a handmade, though dirty and worn, pincushion. Becky gives it with the recommendation that Sara can use her pretending skills to imagine it is “satin with diamond pins in.” It’s all very sweet.
Here, Becky has painted a rock with a monkey. I guess because Sara is from Africa? Whatevs. I’m rather inclined to agree with Miss Minchin on this one:
“A monkey rock. Fantastic.”
(btw, something else I should mention about Becky. She has a Cockney accent. This is not odd, and in fact is true to the book. The thing that is odd is that no other child, Sara included, speak with American accents, even though this movie takes place in London. Shades of the Shirley Temple version again.)
(As well, Miss Minchin speaks with an English accent, but a rather silly one such as an American might put on if they were goofily portraying an English villain.)
Anywho, just as the party is getting into full swing, Miss Minchin receives bad news: Captain Crewe is dead, and died penniless. In the book, Captain Crewe invested in a friend’s diamond mines, and then died of a combination of fever and stress when he lost everything.
Hilariously, the Shirley Temple version creates a giant plot hole with dad’s death: Captain Crewe is (presumably) killed in the Siege of Mafeking, and “his property and his mines were confiscated by the enemy.” Which, okay, but by the end of the film, when Sara has found her papa (alive, though injured and with amnesia that she immediately cures by screaming at him), there has been no word on the property and mines being restored. Meaning that yes, Sara has found her father, but they still have no money and he is now a disabled vet.
But I digress. The death scene is rather artfully done here, with a fellow soldier presenting Miss Minchin with Captain Crewe’s hat.
“You father has died. And what is worse, he has lost all his money in the diamond mine.”
Again, fair enough. That explanation should suffice for little kids.
And again, true to the book, Miss Minchin makes Sara into a servant, so she can try to recoup some of the money Captain Crewe owed her.
A month passes, and Sara becomes hungry and tired, but she and Becky keep their princessy perkiness and sing a song as they clean the school. And it is just creepy and bizarre to watch Sara scrub a floor, levitating the brush back and forth and she lies, armless, on the floor.
But here, see for yourself:
(This splices together several times that they sing the song—the scenes starting at about 1:28 don’t happen until later.)
(Also, the bit where the students tramp across the freshly-cleaned floor is straight out of the 1995 Americanized version.)
We get a shot of Sara reading her Bible before snuffing out her candle and hitting the hay, and then we get a Silly Song. Apparently, these are a staple of VeggieTales, to mix up the format and provide a bit of an intermission. It’s a totally-unrelated-to-The-Penniless-Princess scene and song, where two besties text each other, despite being in the same room. No mention of God, who I guess approves of incessant texting.
Back in Sara and Becky’s attic, Sara is telling Becky a Bible story. In keeping with the best VeggieTales criticism, this is an Old Testament story, of Joseph and his jacket, which VeggieTales has also made into an episode. Then Ermie shows up, and Sara shows them both the story (her Bible is illustrated with vegetables), explaining again that God loves them no matter what.
Becky then shows Ermie the way back to the actual school part of the building, which gives Sara an opportunity to meet the people next door. See, in the book, Sara meets a servant who lives next door to her, an Indian man named Ram Dass. He is manservant to the owner of the house, whom Sara knows only as “the Indian gentleman,” because he is an English gentleman from India. And will, of course, become very important later.
But since this Sara is from Africa rather than India, we get…two French servants.
Yep, makes total sense to me.
And instead of a pet monkey, they have a pet poodle. Because of course they do.
On that note, we’ll stop for this installment. But I did want to mention: despite my bitching, I am not a die-hard purist of A Little Princess. I think changes like India to Africa are silly because they are pointless, but if a version wants to dig into the characters and explore new things, I welcome it. In fact, my second favorite version, after the 1986 miniseries, is Shokojo Seira, which takes places in present-day Japan. Becky is a boy and Miss Minchin has a wannabe-boyfriend and Sara is marvelously imperfect, which even the Ermengarde counterpart calling her out for condescension and self-absorption. It’s…kinda awesome.