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Literature / A Little Princess

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A 1905 novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett, author of Little Lord Fauntleroy and The Secret Garden. Also known as Sara Crewe and The Little Princess.

Sara Crewe, the daughter of a British Army officer, is refreshingly kind, generous and clever, despite her father's wealth buying her every luxury she could desire. She retains this attitude even when she is packed off to a boarding school for formal education. However, a couple of years later, word comes that a bad investment has bankrupted her father, who subsequently died of Brain Fever brought on by the shock.

Unable to pay for her education and having no known relatives, Sara has no choice but to accept a position as a servant at the boarding school. Despite these hardships, she continues to be kind and gracious, keeping her spirits up by believing that there is still magic in the world and things will get better.


It becomes more and more difficult for her to keep that attitude glued on as time passes, especially when she is denied food as a punishment. Sara is about to give into despair when warm clothes, bedding and food begin to appear out of nowhere in her attic room. Her father's associate, Mr. Thomas Carrisford, has been searching for her since Crewe's death. He'd sent the gifts not knowing Sara was "his" girl, just wanting to help someone in need. He gives her back her half of the "bad investment," which in the end turned out to be worth many times more than he and her father had anticipated, and takes her as his ward. Her fortune restored, Sara returns to her former social station, but she does not forget those who were kind to her when she was in need.

Inspired a few movie adaptations, most notably one starring Shirley Temple in 1939 (titled The Little Princess) and one directed by Alfonso Cuarón in 1995. The latter cast Liesel Matthews in the role. It has also had many stage adaptations as well as various television shows, including a critically acclaimed World Masterpiece Theater Princess Sarah anime series in The '80s and the more recent (and far more loosely-based) anime Str.A.In.: Strategic Armored Infantry, which adds fanservice and mecha along with giving the heroine an alternative reaction to trauma. In SPACE. See also the 2009 Japanese live-action drama Shōkōjo Seira, which move the action to Japan and age-up the characters. There's even a 2011 musical adaptation (starring Sierra Boggess), a VeggieTales adaptation (2012's The Penniless Princess), and indie developer Hanako Games had released A Little Lily Princess, a Visual Novel adaptation in May 2016.


Not in any way a Distaff Counterpart to The Little Prince, though there's a paper to be written on that topic. Please do not confuse with Alice Soft's Little Princess, or Tony Ross' Little Princess children books.

Compare the 1858 French novel Malheurs de Sophie with a similar Riches to Rags and Rags to Riches premise affecting a little girl from the aristocracy.

The original novel contains examples of the following tropes:

  • #1 Dime: The sixpence Donald Carmichael gives Sara. Even when she's actually starving, Sara refuses to spend it, instead keeping it as a token to remember that someone was once kind to her.
  • Adaptation Expansion: The novel originally began life as a novella called "Sara Crewe", that was serialized in St. Nicholas Magazine in 1888. But Burnett felt that the story was incomplete, so it was first expanded into a play, "A Little Un-fairy Princess", and finally into this version.
  • An Aesop: 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.
  • Alpha Bitch: Lavinia. She was the best-dressed girl at the seminary and the headmistress’s show pupil until Sara came and won everyone over with her fine dresses, heart of gold, exotic background, and money from her father that paid for special privileges. She slaps Lottie in the face for apparently no reason, and she takes delight in Sara’s downfall, even tattling on her and her friends when they sneak treats.
  • Ambiguously Brown: Sara is described as having a "brown" hand and a "small, dark face". This implies that she could be mixed race. Alternately the Victorian standards of brown and dark could be referring to her just being tanned from growing up in India (it would be another few decades before tanned skin would become fashionable). Her mother is specifically described as having been French, so her complexion could also reflect Mediterranean heritage. What is even more possible, and even likely, is that Sara's father is a grandson of white Mughals, English officers with the East India Company who learned and spoke the languages, converted to Islam, married Mughal noblewomen and utterly assimilated into the Mughal culture of 18th-century India. Sara's great-grandmother could have been a Mughal princess.
  • Amoral Attorney:
    • Mr. Barrow, Captain Crewe's solicitor. He's the one who comes to the school to announce his client's death, and suggests making a servant of Sara to Miss Minchin (as an alternative to throwing her out on the street, which would be bad publicity for the school). Well, he does also suggest that Miss Minchin might do her the "favor" of keeping her on as a student... but his primary reason for having to say that is because he has cleaned out what remained of her father's money to pay off his own bills, leaving nothing for the child but a huge amount of debt.
    • Averted with Mr. Carmichael, Carrisford's solicitor. He's introduced as the head of a loving family that Sara envies, and when his profession is revealed, it's in a conversation where he offers to travel to Moscow to follow a vague lead on Sara's whereabouts.
  • Bad Bedroom, Bad Life: After becoming a servant, Sara sleeps in a poorly heated attic, but despite her poor circumstances she dreams of better things there. It's much more comfortable after "the magic" comes in and makes the room more livable, even for Becky.
  • Beneath the Mask: After Sara's father dies, Miss Minchin reveals her bitchy, greedy self.
  • A Birthday, Not a Break: The news that Captain Crewe died after having lost all his money arrives during Sara's birthday party. The first things Miss Minchin takes away are her birthday presents, as she had paid for them expecting to get the money back as part of her next payment for Sara's upkeep.
  • Book Dumb: Ermengarde St. John, who has trouble with her lessons, particularly French.
  • Book Smart: Sara impresses her teachers at her boarding school with her intelligence. Despite being seven years old, she spends much time reading books and can speak French fluently.
  • Book Worm: Sara is an avid reader, even at age seven.
  • Brain Fever: Captain Crewe's fate.
    "He's dead, ma'am," Mr. Barrow answered with jerky brusqueness. "Died of jungle fever and business troubles combined. The jungle fever might not have killed him if he had not been driven mad by the business troubles, and the business troubles might not have put an end to him if the jungle fever had not assisted. Captain Crewe is dead!"
  • Break the Cutie: The bulk of the story. Miss Minchin, the servants, and Lavinia deliberately try to break her further after she's ruined. The novel even points out that "her child heart might have been broken" had it not been for Ermengarde, Lottie and Becky.
  • Class Princess: Sara is this when she first comes to school, until she’s demoted to a servant.
  • Companion Cube: Emily. Although in one moment of despair Sara screams at Emily that she's "just a doll".
  • Contrived Coincidence:
    • Well, it is by a Victorian novelist: the old gent from India who moves in next door turns out to be looking for a particular young lady who is due to inherit a great deal of money. Since the 'Indian Gentleman' is not even sure which city, if not country the little girl was sent to school in (he sends his solicitor to Paris, then to Moscow, on the basis of vaguely similar names and backgrounds), it's somewhat serendipitous that he happens to move in next door from the right girl.
    • Possibly the greatest moment of coincidence is not necessarily important to the plot: a hungry Sara comforts herself with a fantasy of finding a lost sixpence, taking it to a bakery, and eating six buns without stopping. "Then," says the narrator, "if you can believe it--" Sara glances down to see a lost fourpence, then looks up to find she is in front of a bakery, where she is sold six penny buns for fourpence. The only difference is that she doesn't end up eating all six.
  • Cope by Pretending: After Sara becomes destitute, she tries to lose herself in fantasies of being a princess locked in the Bastille who will soon be freed, or who is living among the common people to learn about them, to distract herself from her suffering.
  • Costume Porn: Some paragraphs in the book are spent describing Sara's beautiful clothes. Indeed, lengthy paragraphs are devoted to describing the wardrobes of Sara's dolls.
  • Daddy's Girl: Sara and her father were very close, and her mother died when she was quite young.
  • Darkest Hour: When Sara's attic party is caught and Sara is subjugated to another day without food, and Sara glumly tries to sleep to dream of something nice. This is right before the magic comes
  • Death by Childbirth: Sara and Lottie's mothers died this way
  • Denied Food as Punishment: And smacked around a little, too.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: It's Sara's kindness in the worst possible circumstances that attracts the attention of her father's partner, lying sick in the house next door, and leads to their discovery of each other's identities.
  • Enfant Terrible: Lottie, before she meets Sara.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Lavinia's friend Jessie goes along with giggling at Sara's fallen status and ill-fitting clothes, but even she can't agree with Sara being outright starved.
  • Evil Is Petty: Miss Minchin starts resenting Sara after the latter accidentally embarrasses the former in front of the class, for something that was Miss Minchin's own fault in the first place. Of course, when Sara loses her fortune, she wastes no time on mistreating the girl.
    • Other characters that treat Sara coldly, such as the cook, don't seem to even have a motivation other than they resented Sara for her former wealth.
  • Evil Orphanage Lady: Miss Minchin seems decent at first, but as soon as it is revealed that Sara is an orphan, she turns her into a scullery maid with hardly any pay and shuts her up into a tiny attic, separated from all the other girls except one servant.
  • Extreme Doormat: Miss Minchin's sister is far kinder but is completely dominated by her until the end of the story when she finally speaks her mind.
  • Fallen Princess: Sara. She pretends she really is a princess who's just fallen on hard times like in The French Revolution.
  • Fat and Skinny: Sisters Miss Amelia and Miss Maria Minchin, respectively.
  • Formerly Fat: A downplayed example, as Sara is hardly fat, but she is noted to be plump and fresh faced in a healthy manner befitting her Spoiled Sweet background. Once she is rendered destitute, however, Miss Minchin wastes no time in segregating her away from the other children and feeding her scraps. Sara grows frightfully thin, bordering on frail, but is still getting taller and has to dress in the few clothes that were left to her as long as she could get into them. When Ram Dass and Mr. Carrisford take pity on the child living in the attic and send her gifts of food and sweets, it's a good thing they also send her new clothes.
  • Funetik Aksent: Becky and other Cockney characters.
  • Gave Up Too Soon: Had Miss Minchin not given up on the hopes the late Ralph Crewe's investment would generate profits, she wouldn't have mistreated his daughter to the point the girl would gladly leave her boarding school as soon as she had a place to go.
  • Girl Posse: Lavinia's small band of hangers-on.
  • Greed: Miss Minchin
  • Happily Adopted: In the end, when Thomas Carrisford reinstates Sara as an heiress, he effectively becomes her foster father, and the epilogue reveals that the urchin Sara saved from starvation is apprenticed to the baker.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: The word "queer" is thrown around like a stuffed animal in the book, if only in the archaic sense. The girls also "ejaculate" a few times.
    • The mention that Sara and her dad "were the dearest friends and lovers in the world" really sounds off to a modern reader.
  • Heroic BSoD: Sara during her most despairing moment is no longer able to pretend that Emily is anything other than a doll and knocks her on the floor. She pulls herself together though and says that Emily can no more help being a doll than Lavinia can help being horrid.
  • Honorary Princess: Every girl is a princess, according to Sara. As for herself, she tries to have every day the good attitude of a princess, including during the period she fell on hard timeshence the title.
  • Honorary Uncle: After Sara is taken in by Mr. Carrisford, she refers to him as "Uncle Tom", which he encourages.
  • I Am Not Pretty: Sara says "I am one of the ugliest children you ever saw" and envies another child with dimples and golden curls (those being the high standards of Victorian beauty). The narrative assures us that she is too hard on her own appearance, and something about her inspires adults to attend to her.
  • Impoverished Patrician: In spite of her poverty, Sara hangs on to her upper-class manners and education, as they're all she has left of her privileged former life. Good thing, too, as this makes her stick out in the memories of strangers as a serving girl who probably came from much, much better circumstances than her current one, which eventually, in a roundabout way, leads to her rescue.
  • Innocent Beta Bitch: Lavinia is an Alpha Bitch who enjoys bullying Sara even after her father's death. Lavinia's best friend Jessie is less malicious, at one point she actually feels sorry for Sara, and reprimands Lavinia for tattling on her.
  • Interclass Friendship: Sara Crewe is the pet student at a boarding school and quite well off. While there, she meets Becky, the scullery maid, and strikes up a friendship with her. Sara tells Becky stories just like the other girls and sneaks her food that she has bought, and Becky makes her a pincushion out of flannel as a present. When Sara loses her wealth, she and Becky become fellow sufferers under Ms. Minchin's rule. Then, when Sara is adopted at the end, she mentions Becky to her new father and takes her away from the boarding school to a much better life as her personal companion.
  • Ironic Name: Lavinia the Alpha Bitch shares a name with the virtuous daughter of Titus Andronicus, who is a quintessential nice girl.
  • Lampshade Hanging: Done with some of the story's more dramatic coincidences, including the news of Captain Crewe's ruin and death arriving immediately after Sara has a conversation about whether she'd be such a nice and happy person if she weren't so rich and the way Carrisford finally finds Sara.
  • Lonely Doll Girl: Sara's doll Emily was bought by her father so she'd feel less lonely when he returned to India. She becomes one of Sara's few companions when Sara loses her fortune.
  • Meaningful Name: Sara is Hebrew for "princess". In the book of Genesis, Sarah — wife of Abraham — gives birth to Isaac, and is promised that she will be a princess of many nations. Becky's name is a diminution of Rebecca, Isaac's wife (Sarah's daughter-in-law), and the mother of Jacob/Israel. Maria (Miss Minchin's first name) means "bitter". Amelia means "lovable" — and she is the nicer sister.
  • Neutral No Longer: Lavinia's empty-headed friend Jessie reprimands Lavinia for tattling on Sara and her friends for planning a midnight feast (after Sara has been deprived of food for a day) and later says Miss Minchin has no right to starve Sara.
  • Never Got to Say Goodbye: Technically, Sara and Captain Crewe did say goodbye before she was left at the Seminary, but they made it brief because both would rather go their separate ways with dignity.
  • Nice to the Waiter: One of Sara's defining traits. Even when she herself falls on hard times, she's still kind and generous to those even worse off.
  • Older Than They Look: Becky is said to be 14 when she comes to the school to work, but is so stunted in growth from malnutrition, she looks 12.
  • Ojou: Sara before her father dies. Look at the title.
  • Omniglot: Sara can speak fluently in English, French, and Hindustani. It's also mentioned in a passing comment she can at least read in German as well. Pretty impressive for a seven year old.
  • Parental Abandonment:
    • Sara's mother died in childbirth, and her father when she's eleven.
    • Lottie's father is said to be very "flighty" and to have left Lottie to others after his wife died, who also died in childbirth.
  • Peer-Pressured Bully: Jessie occasionally feels sad for Sarah after the latter becomes Riches to Rags. The narration states that Jessie isn't wicked, just too weak-willed and easily influenced by the opinions of Alpha Bitch Lavinia.
  • Pretty in Mink: A few furs are mentioned, like a doll with an ermine-lined cape, and the fur coat Sara wears at the end.
  • Princess Classic: Or almost. In fact, Sara looks up to historical queens and princesses (notably Marie Antoinette in one instance) as role models, which helps her control her temper on occasions.
  • Princess in Rags: As a servant, Sara wears an old black velvet frock of hers, that is already too small for her when she puts it on. The book mentions a bonnet with ostrich plumes that also belonged to her, but becomes bedraggled from repeated errands in the rain.
  • Princesses Prefer Pink: A significant scene in which Sara meets Becky is marked by Sara's carefully described rose-pink dancing costume, complete with rosy pink cheeks and a wreath of pink roses in her hair. Becky hammers the point home by comparing Sara to her memory of briefly glimpsing a real princess dressed all in pink.
  • Promotion to Parent: Sara acts as a stand-in mother to Lottie.
  • Rags to Riches: Inverted: The book and adaptations are frequently promoted as a "riches to rags" story. Though of course she becomes rich beyond her wildest imagination again when it turns out the diamond mines were real and her father's partner is still alive.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Miss Minchin's well-meaning but cowed sister Amelia finally snaps at the end of the novel and thoroughly tells her off. Miss Minchin is shocked and intimidated, and Miss Amelia takes a greater role in running the school thereafter.
    "And now you've lost her," she cried wildly; "and some other school will get her and her money; and if she were like any other child she'd tell how she's been treated, and all our pupils would be taken away and we should be ruined. And it serves us right; but it serves you right more than it does me, for you are a hard woman, Maria Minchin, you're a hard, selfish, worldly woman!"
  • Rich Bitch: Lavinia Herbert, who was the richest girl in school before Sara turned up, and sees the younger girl as a threat to her social standing. She's unmerciful in her ridicule when Sara loses her fortune.
  • Sadist Teacher: Miss Minchin, who has a nasty cruel streak and cares about nothing more than money. Her sister calls her out on it right at the end: "You're a hard, cruel, worldly woman."
  • Said Bookism: There are some instances of words being "ejaculated" in the novel.
  • Spoiled Brat: Lottie. Similar to Mary Lennox, she's pretty much been treated like a pet ever since she was born, with people giving her anything she wants to keep her quiet. At the age of four she is, as the narration describes her, "a very appalling little creature."
  • Spoiled Sweet: Sara's a bit naive about the state of the world at first, but even before things get horribly awful she realizes that there are people less fortunate than she is and doesn't act like a Rich Bitch.
  • Title Drop: Toward the end of the book, Miss Amelia has a bit of a breakdown:
    "[Sara] saw through us both. She saw that you were a hard-hearted, worldly woman, and that I was a weak fool, and that we were both of us vulgar and mean enough to grovel on our knees for her money, and behave ill to her because it was taken from her—though she behaved herself like a little princess even when she was a beggar. She did—she did—like a little princess!"
  • Too Hungry to Be Polite: The street girl Sara gives five of her penny buns to tears ravenously into them, exclaiming only, "Oh my! Oh my!" She is starving, as Sara notes.
  • What Have I Become?: A rather mundane example. Sara's grim circumstances don't fully hit home until a child mistakes her for an actual beggar, at which point she realizes that she really is one step above a beggar.
  • You Dirty Rat!: Subverted with the rat in Sara's attic room whom she befriends and names "Melchisedec," after an Old Testament king. She comments on how hard it must be to an animal that everyone treats with fear and disgust when it is just trying to feed itself and its family. Melchy also gets a What Happened to the Mouse? since it's not revealed how he fares after Sara and her crumbs move out of the attic.note 

Adaptations with their own trope pages include:

The 1939 film provides examples of:

  • Adapted Out: Along with many minor characters, Ermengarde and Lottie are missing, despite their importance to Sara in the original.
  • Aside Glance: Shirley Temple looks right at the camera as the film ends.
  • Deus ex Machina: Or rather, extremely powerful convenient visitor. When Sara finds the hospital that may contain her wounded, amnesiac father, she is allowed to search it after asking a very old, important-looking woman for permission. Upon thanking her for this, Sara asks the woman's name, and then blushes and curtsies when she responds: "Victoria." It's a heartwarming moment, and kind of stops anyone this side of God from keeping father and daughter apart one second longer.
  • Disney Death: Sara's father.
  • Dream Sequence: Sara has an elaborate dream in which she actually is a princess, and Miss Minchin is an evil witch.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: Captain Crewe requests that Sara's room at the seminary be made "as gay as possible." We're talking about an all-girls school.
  • Karma Houdini: Miss Minchin. All we see happen to her is a look of utter shock upon learning Sara's father is still alive.
  • Missed Him by That Much: At one point Sara turns a corner and goes in one direction while her father is wheeled out of his room and sent down the hallway in the opposite direction.
  • Pretty in Mink: Sara wears a blue coat with an ermine collar and ermine muff.
  • Public Domain Feature Films: Due to Fox failing to renew the copyright, this film is in the Public Domain.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: One of the soldiers in the hospital is making paper dolls.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Sara's father is alive. He's horribly injured, but alive.
  • Spoiled Sweet: Sara has clearly been ridiculously spoiled but is still as sweet as Shirley Temple always was.
  • True Blue Femininity: Sara is first seen in a blue coat (with an ermine collar) and hat.
  • Title Drop: "She's just like a little princess, isn't she?"
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Becky is last seen being captured by the police while Sara escapes.

The 1986 WonderWorks mini-series provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Expansion: Several incidents only mentioned in passing in the book are given full scenes and the series adds a minor subplot about a statue of Kali that Captain Crewe owned.
  • Adapted Out: Several of the Carmichael children, including all the boys besides Donald.
  • Beta Bitch: Jessie is more willing to be antagonistic for Alpha Bitch Lavinia, but begins to question it after Lavinia tells Miss Minchin about Ermengarde's hamper of food.
  • Big "SHUT UP!": Ermengarde gives one to Lavinia when she tells Sara that skivvies don't belong in school.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Carrisford appears in the first scene of the series.
  • Dies Differently in Adaptation: Captain Crewe, instead of dying of now-disproven brain fever, catches pneumonia on his way back to India.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: After her sister Amelia leaves after her "The Reason You Suck" Speech, Miss Minchin is briefly seen holding back tears.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: Several characters, including the cook and Miss Minchin call Becky a slut at multiple points. During the time period, "slut" was another word for a drudge.
  • Kick the Dog:
    • The cook wastes no time mistreating Sara, rubbing in her former status frequently and denying her dinner after Sara fails to obtain parsley.
    • Lavinia as well, from saying she knew Sara was always just a servant to jerking her arm to make it look like Sara deliberately spilled food on her.
  • Pet the Dog: Miss Amelia defends Becky when Miss Minchin accuses her of stealing food and convinces her to drop the accusation. Before that, she also attempted to convince her sister to give Sara something for Christmas, though that fails.
    • Miss Minchin gives a very brief one to Sara when Erminegarde gives her a Christmas present, telling her to open it downstairs instead of taking it away from her.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Miss Amelia after she gives "The Reason You Suck" Speech to her sister.
  • Servile Snarker: Ram Dass acts this way towards Carrisford.
  • Spirited Young Lady: Sara is a bit more assertive in this adaptation, more prone to talking back while still being dignified.
  • Truer to the Text: This version leaves almost nothing from the book out and changes very little.

The 1995 film provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Alternate Ending: Sort of. The film keeps the book's ending of Sara being restored to her wealth, but it happens in a different way. Captain Crewe is actually alive, suffering from amnesia. Miss Minchin discovers the finery in Sara's attic room, assumes it's stolen and phones the police. Sara is reunited with her father while trying to escape. Additionally while Becky is promoted to Sara's personal attendant in the book, the film goes ahead and says that she's been adopted as a sister instead. And Miss Minchin is removed from her position and has to work as a chimney sweep.
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: Played with. Sara in the book believes she isn't pretty (because she doesn't have beautiful blonde hair), and it's her kindness and spunkiness that compels people to attend to her. This trait is abandoned in the film, where she's played by the cute Liesel Matthews.
  • Adaptational Karma: Dished out at the end to Miss Minchin, who loses the school and is forced to work as a chimney sweep under the boy she abused earlier in the film.
  • Adaptational Nationality: Sara is a British child in the books, but played by an American. Her father is still British and her mother is said to have been a student at the school (which is now in New York), implying she is half-American.
  • Adaptational Nice Guy: Nearly all the students (sans Ermengarde and Lottie), who in the novel, while not mean per se, did treat Sara as if she were another servant after the loss of her fortune despite earlier being her friend. Here, while unsure what to do at first, are still genuinely friendly with her, even helping to obtain her locket.
  • Adaptational Wealth: At the end of the book, Becky becomes Sara's personal attendant. At the end of this film, she's adopted by Captain Crewe.
  • Adaptation Dye-Job: Sara has dark hair in the book but it's a light brown in the film.
  • Adaptation Expansion: In the book, Miss Minchin never sees the room filled with finery by Ram Dass. In the film, her discovering it (and assuming Sara has stolen everything) prompts the climax — where Minchin summons the police.
  • Adaptation Explanation Extrication: Sara wakes up to find her attic room filled with food, clothing and other luxuries. In the book, these things were brought to her in secret over a number of weeks by Ram Dass, the Indian man living next door, while she slept. In the film, they're just there with no explanation. The implication is that 'the magic' Sara believes in is real.
  • Adaptation Personality Change: While still keeping her kindness, this version of Sara is much more of a Mouthy Kid and Little Miss Snarker, although mostly towards her antagonists.
  • Adapted Out:
    • The Large Family that Sara watches from outside their window don't appear in the film.
    • Carrisford, Captain Crewe's solicitor, does not appear in the film.
  • Age Lift:
    • The other way around. Lavinia is older in the book — said to be about fourteen to Sara's eight. In the film, Sara and Lavinia are about eleven and twelve years old, respectively.
    • Becky is also aged down from fourteen to Sara's nine to being the same age.
  • Allegory Adventure: The film weaves in bits of the Ramayana by making it Sara Crewe's favorite book. The strong implication is that King Rama's story mirrors Captain Crewe's—the two characters are even played by the same actor.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: From Sara to Miss Minchin:
    Sara: Didn't your father ever tell you you were a princess?
  • Big Fun: Miss Amelia is shown to be a chubby woman who, while a little awkward and neurotic, is still very fun and kind to the girls.
  • Bitch Alert: Lavinia is introduced by dipping Ermengarde's hair in an ink well, and looking furious when she hears how wealthy Sara is.
  • Cacophony Cover Up: Lottie's ear-piercing scream creates a diversion under the cover of which the girls can fetch Sara's locket from Miss Minchin's office.
  • Central Theme: The central theme of the film is that all girls can be princesses, no matter their disadvantages and that magic can be real if you believe. The contrast between Sara, a plain servant girl but kind and helpful person, and Miss Minchin, a pristine headmistress but ruthless and cruel woman, emphasizes the theme.
  • Child Hater: This version of Miss Minchin really seems to hate children (at least those who aren't her pupils). In addition to treating Sara and Becky horribly (including trying to get them arrested in the climax), she's seen mistreating a young chimney sweep and denying him pay.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: Miss Minchin’s school is punctuated by green, signifying that Sara has to adapt to living in a one-color world.
  • Companion Cube: Emily is this to Sara.
  • Compressed Adaptation: Sara is at the school for several years in the book, but it's only two years at most in the film.
  • Costume Porn: Even more than in the novel. You can hardly blame Miss Minchin when she says Sara can't wear her finery looking at what she's wearing in that very scene.
  • Death by Childbirth: Sara's mother dies giving birth to Sara's younger sister, who died as well.
  • Death Glare: Miss Minchin does this twice to Sara in both scenes where she confronts her in the attic.
  • Didn't Think This Through: The girls stealing Sara's locket from Miss Minchin's office. They didn't think that Minchin would notice and assume Sara stole it?
  • Disney Death: Sara's father, who in this case is confused for being dead with John Randolph from next door.
  • Dramatic Necklace Removal: Sara's locket. Minchin rips it off her once news of her father's death gets to her, and she confiscates it.
  • Eek, a Mouse!!: Invoked by Becky to distract Miss Minchin, while the other girls are raiding her office for Sara's locket.
  • Emerald Power: Downplayed. The school uniforms are green, with a white pinafore over them. Possibly symbolizing how Sara will have to work hard to uncover the magic there.
  • Empathic Environment: Happens several times.
    • For starters, there's a torrential downpour going on when Sara is moved into the attic.
    • Another rainstorm starts along with the climax.
    • During the climax, after escaping the school and entering Mr. Randolph's house, Sara is caught between the police and, unbeknownst to her, her amnesiac father. At this point, the lights in Mr. Randolph's house go out. when Sara is about to realize that her father is right in front of her, the lights come on again.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Miss Minchin looks downright horrified when Sara nearly falls to her death multiple times trying to escape the police. Once she sees that Sara has gotten to safety, however, she does still order the police to go after her.
  • Eye Take: Lavinia when she sees stray hairs clinging to her brush. She's scared that her hair might be falling out.
  • Foreshadowing: During Sara and Becky's imagine spot of the two of them in India, Becky is wearing the same clothes she has on when Captain Crewe adopts her.
  • Fantasy-Forbidding Mother-Figure: An extreme example. Miss Minchin counts Sara encouraging the girls to use their imaginations during story time as a dangerous, rebellious fantasy.
  • Hidden Depths: The confrontation between Sara and Miss Minchin heavily implies that, on some level, the latter does feel guilty for her actions, and that one of the reasons she is what she is, according to the novelization by Diane Molleson, is because "no one had ever loved her, or told her they loved her", with her doing everything she can to bury it and ignore it.
  • Karma Houdini Warranty: While Miss Minchin keeps the school in the book, here she loses it and is reduced to working as a chimney sweep — with the same boy she had abused earlier.
  • Kick the Dog:
    • Miss Minchin does so on several occasions:
      • After telling Sarah that her father is dead, she blatantly forces Sarah into servitude, taking all of her belongings, including her locket — which contains a picture of her mother and father, and threatens to have her arrested if she retrieves it.
      • When she notices all the fine things that Ram Dass had given both Sarah and Becky, she assumes that the girls stole them, and calls the police on them.
    • Lavinia had her moments too, specifically when she blatantly walked across the floor with dirty shoes right after Sarah had finished mopping it, and when she taunted Sarah by telling her to not touch anything in her (Lavinia's) room with her "dirty hands," and rudely asks "when was the last time you took a bath?!"
  • Magical Negro: Ram Dass is a South Asian variant.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: It's implied that Ram Dass genuinely has some magic about him. It's the only explanation for Sara's room filling up with the finery so quickly (in the book he gradually does it over several months), and his goal seems to be to reunite father and daughter.
  • Mistaken Identity: Thanks to a mix-up with their tags, Captain Crewe is briefly mistaken for Mr. Randolph's son John, who he was trying to save in the trenches.
  • Mood Whiplash: All over the place.
    • The fun and jolly scene of Sara's birthday party gets interrupted with the news that Captain Crewe has died.
    • When Sara and the girls are peacefully bowing to Ram Dass from the attic room, Miss Minchin appears behind the girls and catches them.
    • Played for Laughs when Miss Amelia is hurriedly trying to find Sara to calm Lottie down during one of her tantrums. As soon as she finds Sara, Lottie cheerfully walks past them (the plan to steal back the locket now having succeeded).
    • The comedy scene of Miss Amelia and Francis trying to elope abruptly segues into Miss Minchin busting Sara for the stolen locket.
  • Nice Hat: Sara is wearing a big white one when she first arrives at the school. The ones she and Becky wear at the end are much simpler.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Eleanor Bron speaks French with no attempt at an accent in order to show how bad she is at it compared to Sara.
  • Ominous Hair Loss: Lavinia is "cursed" by Sara in response to her mistreatment. Later while obsessively brushing her hair later that evening, Lavinia finds a large strand of hair coming out along with the brush, prompting her to faint in shock. Of course, in this version she usually has a Beta Bitch brushing her hair for her, so this is possibly the first time she's done it herself — and therefore mistook stray hairs coming loose for it falling out.
  • The Oner: Well, it is an Alfonso Cuarón (with Emmanuel Lubezki as cinematographer) joint. The camera tracks down a (foreshadowing) painting of Lucifer being cast from heaven and along the breakfast table as the girls pass a gossiping conversation down it. It's an understated example but impressive when you consider all the actors in it are young children who have to time their lines and engage in background business as the camera moves.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: Mr. Randolph's son is killed in the trenches. He's devastated by the loss and Sarah leaves a flower at his door to show her sympathy.
  • Race Lift:
    • Becky. In the original, she is a typical Victorian-era Cockney girl and becomes a Token Black Friend in the film. With the setting changed from Britain to America, rendering a Cockney girl as black is a logical enough Cultural Translation.
    • Sara herself to a lesser extent. There are references to Sara's "brown hand" and "small, dark face" implying she might be mixed race. She's clearly white in the film. Of course, the aforementioned comments could just be a result of tanning in India.
  • Rags to Riches: Not only does Sara become rich again, but her father adopts Becky.
  • Redemption in the Rain: Captain Crewe and Sara are reunited in the middle of the rain.
  • Regal Ringlets: While wealthy, Sara's hair is elegantly styled in long ringlets, which she loses when she becomes a servant. At the end of the film, when she has regained her wealth, her hair is once more worn in ringlets.
  • Repeat Cut: At the end of the film, when Lavinia hugs Sara.
  • Say My Name: When Sara's father remembers who she is, he runs outside and shouts "Sara!"
  • Scylla and Charybdis: After escaping to Mr. Randall's house in the climax, Sarah is caught between the police and Miss Minchin at the front door and Captain Crewe, who, at this point, is presumed by Sara to be a stranger. Sara heads in her father's direction. This proves to be her saving grace, as captain Crewe remembers who he is just in time to save Sarah from being seized by the police.
  • Setting Update: This film relocates the story to New York, during World War I.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: Becky appears now wearing finery like Sara at the end as she's adopted by Captain Crewe.
  • Shoo Out the Clowns: The comical Amelia runs away with the milkman seconds before the dramatic climax. Sara is actually watching her go when Miss Minchin bursts in and accuses her of stealing the locket.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Sara's father is alive. He's traumatized/amnesiac, but alive.
  • Troubled Abuser: Miss Minchin verbally and emotionally abuses Sara and Becky, but it’s stated in the novelization that she was never loved by anyone (it is implied Amelia was more loved than her and she got tired of living in her sister’s shadow) and is aware of her problems, but feels out of resources. It's also one of her few redeeming qualities which prevents her from being a complete Hate Sink.
  • Villain Ball: In the climax, when Miss Minchin is trying to get Sara arrested for theft, they discover that Captain Crewe is alive. Minchin seals her own fate by hurriedly trying to claim Sara "has no father" and get her taken away — rather than admitting she made a mistake and apologising. Presumably she was also thinking of her Karma Houdini Warranty running out if she's discovered, which is exactly what happens when Captain Crewe remembers who he is.

The 1996 animated film contains examples of:

  • Death by Adaptation: When Sara's father is revealed to be alive, it's explained that his business partner died and was mistaken for him.
  • Easily Forgiven: Miss Minchin no longer owns the seminary but she's still allowed to teach there, in spite of how she treated the new owner's daughter.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Sara's father.