It's hard out there for a living, breathing American girl. It's a morass of mixed messages, A.O. Scott points out in a Times think piece about Kit Kittredge, the Abigail Breslin-helmed American Girl doll-based movie coming out this week. "Who are you supposed to be, or to avoid becoming? A nerd? A ditz? A flirt? A tomboy?" Scott wonders. "What kind of role models are those make-believe princesses, those Bratz and Barbies, to say nothing of the real-life Britneys, Lindsays and Mileys? Mean Girls, Gossip Girls, Girls Gone Wild, Girl Power, You go, girl! What's a girl to do?" And considering the pervasive skankiness of Bratz and their ilk, the American Girls franchise seems like a bastion of true childhood in an increasingly sexualized marketplace. But, as Scott painstakingly notes, it's still part of the marketplace. Jeannette Catsoulis, reviewing Kit for the IHT perfectly summarizes the intrinsic hypocrisy in this Depression-era film. "When you consider that a Kit doll, complete with book and accessories, will currently run you $105, the movie's insistence on the nobility of the indigent might be a tad more difficult to stomach."
And speaking of stomachs, Breslin has the notable lack of one in Kit. I received an alarmed missive from my mother (email subject: "A Beef") about this very issue last week. "Having just looked at Little Miss Sunshine, I was appalled today to see a picture of Abigail Breslin. I was happy to see she has a new movie (Kit Kittredge - from the American Girls franchise). BUT they have made her lose weight and dye her hair. She looks now like one of those girls she was mocking in Sunshine. It is scary. She is scary. " What my momma didn't know is that Abigail was wearing a fat suit to play delightfully rotund Olive in Sunshine. Her salient point still remains: even though Kit Kittredge has a better message than the Bratz movie, it's still selling a certain commodified ideal.
But, at the end of the day, having your kid look up to a self-reliant character who teaches a bit of history is far from the worst thing in the world. Of his daughter's American Girl doll, A.O. Scott writes, "She doesn't say much, and even though her expression is always fixed in a pleasant smile, she seems to change according to the moods and interests of her playmates. She is an athlete, a musician, a clothes horse, a bookworm, a pet owner, a loner and a confidant. A typical American girl, as far as I can tell."