Set in the Great Depression, Kit Kittredge follows the heroine of the American Girl Kit an American Girl books. Kit (Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine) is a 10-year-old aspiring reporter living in Cincinnati with her parents (Julia Ormond and Chris O'Donnell); her father Jack owns a car dealership, and her brother Charlie is away at college. As the movie opens, we see unfortunate neighbors with foreclosure signs in their yards, belongings being seized, and soup kitchens. Kit's situation goes from comfortable to pinched overnight; the bank seizes the dealership, her father moves to Chicago to look for work, and her mother must take in boarders to make ends meet. From there, it's only a short step to selling eggs, and then the poorhouse.
Kit's generally optimistic outlook is nearly crushed under this avalanche of adult responsibilities, but her father gently tells her not to let it beat her before he leaves to look for work. Kit throws herself into her writing, penning a kid's eye view of the Depression as she volunteers at soup kitchens and befriends two young hobos, Will and Countee (Max Thieriot, who played Nancy Drew's boyfriend in Nancy Drew, and Willow Smith). Kit's dreams of being a writer are nearly stamped out by the unpleasant editor Mr. Gibson (Wallace Shawn of The Princess Bride (20th Anniversary Edition) fame), but she keeps at it in an effort to make sense of the suddenly senseless world around her. The new boarders are the subject of many of her articles. There's magician Mr. Berk (Stanley Tucci), mobile librarian Ms. Bond (Joan Cusack), Mrs. Howard and her son Stirling, and the exotic dance instructor Miss Dooley.
But danger strikes as a series of robberies perpetrated by hobos sweeps the nation, and Will and Countee find themselves unwelcome, especially after Will is implicated in two robberies that hit close to home. Kit and her friends Ruthie and Stirling set out to solve the mystery of who would frame Will.
The film does a wonderful job at capturing 1930s atmosphere, particularly in the soundtrack department. Kit Kittredge: An American Girl - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack contains two fabulous tracks by the Puppini Sisters (retro 1940s-style vocal harmonies), Ain't We Got Fun by retro songbird Renee Olstead, and vintage tracks by Spike Jones, Billie Holiday, Cliff Edwards, and Xavier Cugat.
Kit Kittredge is that rare movie that the whole family can enjoy together. The story (and I haven't read the book series that it's based on) is a gently old-fashioned tale of respect, altruism, and optimism in the face of difficulty that will resonate with parents, and kids will enjoy the blend of magic shows, funny characters, and mystery. The solid acting from the big-name cast, headlined by Abigail, offers up a sanitized but effective overview of the atmosphere of the Great Depression, particularly salient as our nation once again finds itself in a sea of foreclosures, high unemployment, and the threat of recession if not depression.