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.



Posted on January 9, 2017, in The Penniless Princess. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. …poodles aren’t known for their climbing abilities.

  2. It’s interesting to see how different versions deviate from the original story. If I’ve seen the original version first, I usually like that version of a story best. Some changes aren’t too bad, but every once in a while they make a change that makes no sense at all.

    The way the Veggies move in VeggieTales is kind of weird unless you’ve seen it enough to be used to it. I think my favorite part of the VeggieTales movies actually might be the Silly Songs that usually have little to nothing to do with the story they interrupt. When I was a kid I used to have a VeggieTales movie that was just a countdown of the Silly Songs. It was great.

  3. I freely admit that while I love the book, A Little Princess, it does have its flaws. I understand why people call Sara Crewe a Mary Sue and of course, a flaw is that Sara is rescued by an outside party and doesn’t save herself. Of course, that was fairly standard during the times Frances Hodgson Burnett was writing, but I can understand why someone might find that flawed, telling a kid, “Endure abuse and eventually someone will rescue you.”

    But I have fond memories of that book. My grandpa gave me a copy when I was young, a hardcover one with beautiful illustrations. At the time, I was mostly reading the Babysitters’ Club and at first, I was a little intimidated. Because to eight-year-old me, A Little Princess looked like a classic, which in my mind, meant big, serious book for grownups. But the illustrations caught my eye, so I read it.

    It really is a good book, despite the flaws mentioned earlier. Plus, there are times in someone’s life where there isn’t much they can do to escape and all they can do is hold on. In that sense, A Little Princess might help. First of all, it provides an escape, like all books do, and well, it might give them an example to hold onto. I cite this part:

    At such times she did not know that Sara was saying to herself:

    “You don’t know that you are saying these things to a princess, and that if I chose I could wave my hand and order you to execution. I only spare you because I am a princess, and you are a poor, stupid, unkind, vulgar old thing, and don’t know any better.”

    This used to interest and amuse her more than anything else; and queer and fanciful as it was, she found comfort in it and it was a good thing for her. While the thought held possession of her, she could not be made rude and malicious by the rudeness and malice of those about her.

    Girls benefit from more active heroines like Violet Baudelaire, but they could still benefit from hearing about Sara Crewe.

    • To me, the biggest flaw is that at the end, Becky is still a servant. Yes, personal servant to Sara, and by the mores of the time a yuuuuge step up for her, but still…

      I’ve never minded that Sara didn’t save herself, though. First, because she as only 11/12 years old, and also because…she kinda did. It’s one of those great children’s books that portrays the life of the mind in a positive way, as something useful and productive and a good experience. Sara survives because she of her spirit and attitude and intelligence and vivid imagination. I love books where children think. 😀

  1. Pingback: Deconstruction Roundup for January 13th, 2017 | The Slacktiverse

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