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This family comedy is based on the stories by Ludwig Bemelmans about the smallest of twelve Parisian schoolgirls. Of the famous twelve little girls living in two straight lines, the smallest one is fearless Madeline. But something is not right at the boarding school in Paris run by Miss Clavell: the house next door is now the Spanish Embassy, kind Lady Covington has died, and Lord Covington is busily plotting to sell the school! Madeline springs into action - befriending the lonely Spanish boy next door, refusing to eat a chicken she has personally met, and facing down Lord Covington as he escorts a prospective buyer through the school. Madeline's perceptiveness, courage, and willingness to stick to her principles - along with Miss Clavell's calm reserve - allow everyone to face their fears with similar aplomb, to thus save both the day, and the school.
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The schoolgirl adventures of Madeline, a flame-haired orphan, are lovingly adapted from Ludwig Bemelmans's classic children's books. His sly and witty writing is transferred to this first-rate film, one that should not be thought of merely as childhood entertainment. Spunky Madeline is most adept at finding trouble. She is also a quick-witted and likable child who can solve almost any problem. Her latest scheme is to keep her school, which is also her home, from being sold by its owner, the recently widowed Lord Covington (Nigel Hawthorne). Unlike most youthful movie fare, this adventure boasts high production values that wisely include colorful Parisian locations. Hatty Jones is all spunky self-sufficiency and sweet innocence in the title role, and Frances McDormand is quite humorous as the stern school-mistress, Miss Clavel. --Rochelle O'Gorman
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