YMMV / A Little Princess

  • Adaptation Displacement: Most people are aware that there's a book, but certain elements of the films are so ingrained in the audience's awareness of the story that it's quite a shock to go back and discover how different the original text is. Mostly striking is that Sara's father doesn't go off to war (The Second Boer War in the 1939 version, World War I in the 1995 version), he really does die (of Brain Fever, after losing his fortune in a bad investment), Sara was at Miss Michin's for at least ten years, and Becky isn't black.
  • Alternative Character Interpretation:
    • The 1995 film and 1986 miniseries show brief scenes of Miss Minchin crying or almost losing control after abusing Sara. Notably, this happens in the 1995 film after Sara brings up the fact that her father told her she was a princess, and asks whether Minchin's own father ever did, too. Viewers are apparently meant to speculate that Minchin had a difficult childhood and perhaps a Disappeared Dad.
    • There are three possible explanations for Miss Minchin's hatred towards Sara. One is the scene when Sara unwittingly embarrasses her, where she reveals she's fluent in French. The second is stated towards the very end, when her sister says that she couldn't stand the fact that Sara saw through her from the very beginning, suggesting that Miss Minchin felt inferior to her, even when she lost everything. The third is more substantial: Miss Minchin thought that Sara would be the key to a lot of money. Instead she ended up with a lot of debts. Miss Minchin seems to resent Sara's precocious self possession, intelligence and ability to read people, even adults.
    • Sara herself could be viewed a little more cynically in terms of her Spoiled Sweet nature. In the book she even states that she's kind because she's never had any reason not to be, and when she loses her wealth she struggles to remain kind. In fact, one has to wonder that if it weren't for Becky, Lottie and Ermengarde, Sara could have ended up bitter and broken. Another way to look at her is to suggest that she remains kind because her kindness is her only weapon against Miss Minchin.
    • It's possible to read Sara as mixed-race in the book. Phrases like 'her little brown hand' and 'small, dark face' are ambiguous, and her belief that she is not pretty because she is dark, as compared to the blonde, blue-eyed prettiness of a childhood friend, makes all the more sense if she is a non-white child in white society. Miss. Minchin's hatred of Sara being fuelled by bigotry would also make a lot of sense in the text as written - that she is made furious by the wealth and 'uppity' behaviour of this non-white girl. Sara's treatment from her fellow servants would similarly make sense. Their resentment seems extreme if their only point of irritation with Sara is that she used to be pampered. If you imagine Sara is from a demographic these low-staus women are used to seeing as being the only people they can comfortably feel superior to, their resentment of Sara's wealth and their schadenfreude at her losing it makes a lot of sense. Although it's worth noting that Victorian writers referring to someone as "dark" could just mean Sara is tanned from growing up in an arid climate.note 
  • Awesome Music:
    • The powerful swelling orchestral piece, titled "Papa", that plays in the 1995 version as Captain Crewe is reunited with Sara.
    • The 1995 version also has a beautiful Leitmotif played on the harp whenever 'the magic' happens. This culminates in a beautiful rendition as Becky and Sara leave the school at the end.
  • Author's Saving Throw: As noted under Values Dissonance below, Becky's fate doesn't read too well these days. Most adaptations change it so that she has been either adopted or established as Sara's equal in some way.
  • Broken Base: The adaptations giving Sara's father a Disney Death. He actually does die in the book. There is a small justification in the fact that he died of Brain Fever after the shock of apparently going bankrupt - which is now known to not be an actual disease in real life.
  • Crowning Moment of Funny: In the 1995 film, the entire scene of the girls stealing Sara's locket from Minchin's office. Lottie pretends to be crying so loudly that it distracts Amelia. After trying to quieten Lottie, Amelia runs down to the kitchen to get Sara (because she can calm Lottie down). By the time they get back upstairs, the girls have the locket and Lottie cheerfully walks past Amelia and Sara. Additionally Minchin comes back early and opens the door to her office, so Becky screams to distract her. Becky stutters for a few seconds while the rest of the girls clear out of the door before saying "I thought I saw a mouse". Minchin rolls her eyes and turns to walk into her office, bumping into the door (which had been closed by Ermengarde).
  • Ensemble Darkhorse: Miss Amelia, especially her Big Fun portrayal in the 1995 film.
  • Fridge Brilliance: Lavinia becoming paranoid about her hair falling out in the 1995 film. She's used to the other girls brushing it for her so she likely has no idea that stray hairs are going to come off. But at the time Sara 'curses' her, all her Girl Posse has grown sick of her and she must brush her hair by herself.
  • Nightmare Fuel:
    • The film adaptation adds a great big grizzly Hydra thing made out of thorns.
    • From the original book, Sara's fate at the hands of Miss Minchin. Sara had no clue she hated her until her father dies and Miss Minchin no longer has to treat her like a parlor boarder anymore. She had sensed earlier, however, that Miss Minchin fawned on her mainly because she was rich. Nonetheless, Miss Minchin is definitely one of the cruelest Sadist Teachers in fiction.
    • One of the adaptations turns the question of resentment into a bit of a Tear Jerker by implying that her father wasn't nearly as kind to her as Sara's was. Still, the scene in that same adaptation, in which we see Sara's father in the war zone, with all of the dead around him, is plenty scary.
  • Retroactive Recognition: Ser Davos is Sara's father!
  • Science Marches On: Brain Fever is now known to mostly be Victorian nonsense and not an actual disease - which could be one of the reasons adaptations have Sara's father turn up alive.
  • Some Anvils Need to Be Dropped: The book was meant to be a critique of Britain's "welfare system", with the goal of making sure everyone has gainful employment. Boys get sent to the Navy and girls to domestic service. They are Made a Slave instead of becoming productive members of society.
  • Stoic Woobie: When she falls on hard times, Sara does her best to maintain her dignity and inner strength, not letting on that she is suffering to any of her friends. The anime adaptation takes this trope Up to Eleven, showing how she bravely accepts her fate, but many adaptations, particularly those made in the States, make her a Spirited Young Lady, so that she doesn't seem passive.
    • It's worth noting that Sara's stoicism is shakey. She's got a lot of courage and foreberance, but she's not the perfect angel of lesser Victorian books (or even the unbearably angelic little heroines of Dickens). Her 'stoicism' at first is as much pride as anything and it makes her isolate herself further and treat her friends unfairly. She has fits of anger and despair and struggles to do the right thing in the face of her own privations.
  • Tear Jerker:
    • It's amazing how heart-wrenching four simple little words can be. "I shall die presently." She's saying this to her doll—the symbol of both her life before and of the imagination that has sustained her. Later in the scene she breaks down screaming that the doll is nothing but an inanimate object that can never care whether she lives or dies.
    • To say nothing of Sara's first night in the attic. The book tells us it cannot possibly relate what Sara goes through. The movie shows us a broken little girl, crying for her papa in a chalk-drawn circle of protection all alone.
    • The 1995 film also has Sara bitterly saying "there is no magic, Becky" after her father's death.
  • They Wasted a Perfectly Good Plot: Almost all the adaptations have this with regards to Sara's redecorated room. In the book, Mr Carrisford and Ram Dass secretly decorate Sara's quarters and leave her things like hot food, warm blankets, and a fire in the grate. Most films (the 1917, the 1939 and the 1995 amongst others) have Miss Minchin discover this, assume that Sara and Becky have stolen the finery, and this event prompts the climax of the story. In the book, Miss Minchin never sees the room. And when Carrisford sends over a lot of packages with beautiful clothes, delivered at the front door, he includes a note. Minchin correctly concludes Sara has a rich relative or friend, and resumes acting obsequious toward her.
  • Unbuilt Trope: Sara Crewe is one of many Purity Sues that crop up in Victorian fiction. However she also is very self-aware of the worshiping attitudes of those around her, guessing that people wouldn't treat her as well if she wasn't wealthy. And in her beggar state, it's strongly implied that she remains kind because that's all she has left.
  • Values Dissonance:
    • Several minor details that seem odd, like the greenishness of Sara's eyes being some kind of huge obstacle to her ever being considered a traditional beauty. Sara "sees herself as ugly" because with her slender build, short dark hair, green eyes, and olive skin she does not in any way match the Victorian-Edwardian image of child beauty; she compares herself to another child in her father's regiment, who has "dimples and rose-colored cheeks, and long hair the color of gold." Black hair was also not a good hair color to have in 19th-Century British India — as it suggested Sara (or her mother) might be mixed-race. Also at various points we get mentions of Sara's "brown" hand and "small dark face".
    • The situation involving Becky coming along as Sara's maid may be due to the fact that, as a lower-class member, Becky doesn't have the education to gain other employment or respectability in her era. This trope is likely the reason the 1995 film implies that Sara's father has adopted Becky at the end. Plus the fact that social class was largely cast in concrete at that time. Becky could not rise above her station even if she wanted to. In this rigidly stratified environment, the best Becky could hope for would be to secure a place in a nice house with a kind-hearted mistress who would make sure she was well-fed, clothed, and sheltered...which is exactly what she gets (and the ending strongly implies that Becky's place in the household is more a companion to Sara than a servant, anyway). By the time the first film adaptation of the book was made (the Mary Pickford version), a mere twelve years after publication, this inequality had already become less palatable to audiences: in the 1917 version, Becky ends up as equal adoptee instead of Sara's maid.
  • The Woobie: Becky, especially in the book.
  • WTH, Casting Agency?:
    • Less a casting issue than a hairdressing one, but Sara in the book feels she is ugly specifically because of her lack of blonde curls. The two most well-known film adaptions cast Shirley Temple and Liesel Matthews respectively, and gave them blond curls. But as the films lack Sara's internal narration, I Am Not Pretty is not brought up.
    • Applied much more in the case of the first ever adaptation. Mary Pickford played Sara Crewe. She was a slight woman, but she was still 25 years old when she played the schoolgirl, and looked - well, like an adult. Mary Pickford would play a lot of little girls despite being in her twenties, and silent audiences were more forgiving of this kind of Dawson Casting (as it was done frequently on the stage too).

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