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Rigoletto (1993)

     directed by Leo D. Paur

          starring Joseph Paur and Ivey Lloyd

This movie is seriously a trip. The kind of syrupy, mid-nineties family movie content is heavily broadcasted before you even watch it, from the hilarious tagline on the movie itself ("A Musical Fantasy Ringing of Truth & Filled with Mystery & Love") to the helpful discussion questions for parents on the back of the tape ("What was the ultimate decision Bonnie faced? Have you ever faced such a test? If so, share it with your family."), combining to make it hilariously dated and stiflingly morality-weighted long before the actual groan-inducing events of the film itself start. Surprisingly, there's almost no religious content whatsoever, which felt very weird for a film company whose motto is "Strengthening Traditional Values Through Entertainment", but religion can probably be thankful for escaping this hot mess.

It's a movie with obviously noble intentions, but I'm having trouble imagining very many children watching it without crossing their eyes, falling asleep, or wanting to know why they aren't watching Disney's Beauty and the Beast instead because it's obviously the same movie but with way worse production values.

By the way, watching this thing is like seeing a Paur family reunion in action. Not only is the writer and director, Leo Paur, the brother of the male lead, Joseph Paur, but there are also two Paur children in the throngs of kiddies running in and out of the frame all the time. Maybe "Feature Films for Families" actually directly refers to the Paur family.

So, I've got to assume that some of y'all are familiar with opera, right, since that's a thing Phantom readers tend to be interested in? And, seeing as the title of this movie is Rigoletto, also the title of one of Verdi's most famous operas, you might be expecting this to be some weird mish-mash of the two stories (incidentally, Verdi's Rigoletto was based on Victor Hugo's novel The King's Amusement - I see you, nineteenth-century French lit!). Both of them do feature a deformed performer and various themes of evil versus purity and innocence, but they're really not the same story and a combination of the two is likely to do some weird but interesting things.

But, my friends, you will not be seeing those weird but interesting things here, because this movie turns out to have literally nothing to do with Rigoletto whatsoever. I know this is confusing. Believe you me, I was confused. But it turns out that Rigoletto, the titular character, is not in fact a hunchbacked court jester in a morality tale about not being a douchebag, but a magical elven fairy prince who is the master of healing music and was tragically disfigured by a sword wound to the face during a war between elves and humans that left him exiled from all but his lovely elven fiancee and faithful manservant while he roams the human world looking for the love of a pure soul to restore him.

Basically, I spent the first ten minutes of the movie just saying, "What?" over and over, frightening John and the cats and probably the neighbors. After making it all the way to the end, I can now confidently confirm that at no point anywhere in this movie will the use of the name Rigoletto make any sense or tie in any way back to the actual story of Rigoletto. Don't look for it. It isn't there. Feature Films for Families is epically trolling all of us.

At any rate, we learn all this at the beginning through the vehicle of a fairytale storybook being read by Bonnie, our impending protagonist, to her mother and younger siblings during a touching round-the-fire family relaxation evening. Like ninety things about this story don't make any sense at all, including Rigoletto not marrying his fianccee because "the human world interfered", whatever that means, and his face becoming hideous and death-like from a sword wound, and his need to seek "a loving heart" in the mortal world even though he's dragging his presumably loving fiancee around like baggage behind him. Which would probably be fine if it were a fairytale... but since it's the actual (secret!) plot of this movie, oh, man.

Okay, we have to get this out of the way, so: Lloyd is awful. My feelings on child actors are well-known (i.e., I usually hate them), but Lloyd is an extra level of bad. Reading directly from a prompter bad. Melting the audience's brains bad. She means well, and she certainly looks charming, but listening to her talk is like attending your child's third-grade school play, except you don't know her personally so you're not obligated to care about her. She's not alone in this - of course, this movie has buckets of child actors, each more snooze-worthy and deadpan than the last, and many of the adults are no acting prize-winners, either - but we see her constantly, so she became my acting-failure focus early on. (Let's be fair to her, though - the screenplay, also written by the director, stinks, so there was only so much she could probably have done.)

Oh, and of course it's a movie musical, now with 100% more chances for Lloyd to prove to us that not only can't she act, she can't sing, either. She has one of those breathy, I'm-a-child-star voices that were in vogue in the late eighties and early nineties; she defintiely has some dormant talent that might be something great if she works at it, and I'd definitely love to hear what she sounded like later in life, but right now she's a chalkboard chore to listen to.

Bonnie's introductory song, "Let Me In", is about her love of fairytales and wish that she were in one (so... wish granted, I guess, Bonnie, but don't expect it to make much sense). The lyrics are a little trite but not actually half bad, but the uninspired score, combined with Lloyd's flat-toned voice, kills them flatly dead. Because this is a Phantom story, Bonnie is of course spending all her time worrying about a vocal competition she's entering (although the town keeps calling it a "talent showcase", but apparently there are prizes? I don't quite get it), which she desperately wants to win but never has so far. The competition itself is clearly a quality production, especially the old man with the ear trumpet on the judging panel and the crowd that goes inexplicably wild for Bonnie, but unfortunately I can't feel like the competition was stolen from her since her rival, Kathleen, is a noticeably better singer when she takes her turn onstage. Since only Bonnie and Kathleen sang at this "talent showcase", apparently because they were the finalists, it feels like a particularly cruel bonus round (not to mention short!).

Kathleen is, of course, our Carlotta figure, as the rival singer who prevents Bonnie from getting any love onstage. She's also one of your stereotypically cruel and nasty Carlottas, and makes a point of being randomly antagonistic and overly competitive with Bonnie, as well as snarking at the poorer children for their battered clothing choices.

Luckily, we don't have to hang out with the stilted interpersonal dynamics for long thanks to the appearance of the Plot, in the person of a creepy man in a suit who stares at Bonnie a bunch from the back of the room, then bows and disappears once he's been noticed.

The movie spends a great deal of time lingering on the people and community of Castle Gate, a place that no one explains but that I have to assume must be Castle Gate, Utah, a mining town that is the only place I can think of to set this movie. Or maybe it's an imaginary Castle Gate; I dunno. The wide-angle focus on pretty much everyone who lives in the town does actually provide an interesting community involvement in the movie, taking it from the realm of the main characters' interactions and providing a major character in the townsfolk themselves, who are an effective plot device as a whole despite being annoyingly stereotypical as individual characters. I was reminded strongly of Stephen King's habit of making the townsfolk an integral part of his novels' landscape, although I'm pretty sure that is the only time ever that anyone has compared anything about this movie to Stephen King. While nothing in the movie gave us any real year to pinpoint as the setting, the film's IMDB and Wikipedia pages seem to think it's set during the Great Depression, which at least explains the epic poverty and disgruntled workers we're seeing everywhere.

The cast is enormous, and mostly too boring to enumerate. Porter, possessor of a lisp so terrifyingly bad that I feel for his actor who was certainly trying but usually not succeeding, and Georgie, who is made fun of for having scuffed old boots, have an abusive deadbeat father who tends toward alcoholism and is bad at getting a new job. Dallin Avery is a frequently half-nude pig farmer who loves his hogs with a dizzying passion, and his wife Emelda is deeply long-suffering about this. Papanickolas is a conglomeration of Mediterranean immigrant stereotypes, and there seem to be ten thousand random ragamuffin children running around, being indistinguishably poor actors and getting into things they aren't supposed to, as children are wont to do. I stopped trying to figure out kids' names pretty quickly, and to be honest the large adult cast got away from me, too, usually because I was too bored and uninterested in them to be bothered with their names.

Something I actually did find very interesting, however, is the fact that the screenplay takes a swing not only at class warfare and the plight of those in poverty, but also the social reactions and behaviors that come out of such situations. While the Phantom story has always been about class divides, illustrating that one class's abuse of another is repeated on down the chain until humanity creates the very things that it abhors out of its own callousness, this movie goes a step further into discussing whether or not there should be censure aimed at those bottom-rung survivors, turned by harsh lives and the prejudice of others into the mean-spirited and small-minded poor. The film's message is ambiguous at best, swinging from asking for understanding from the children of the abusive man because it's the stress and pain of his uncertain station in life that makes him mean, and pointing out that it's still not okay to scream at and threaten your kids no matter what your problems are like, but both are interesting viewpoints, and more depth than I was expecting from the maple-syrup sludge of most of this movie. Often, stories about class conflict make the lower class into a sort of bogeyman of evil - like the original Erik - and don't examine the fact that they still have moral conflicts of their own.

A much more heavy-handed and unintentionally hilarious moral comes in when several children are laughing at the pigs on the Avery farm and are sharply reprimanded by a red-faced Avery himself, who launches into a confusing and more than a little bit insane tirade about how pigs have feelings, too, and their jokes at the pigs' expense are no laughing matter and probably depress those poor hogs, you selfish little bastards. The meandering speech obviously has a point for the kiddies in the audience, namely that it's cruel to treat those different from yourself as lesser or objects of ridicule, but it's impossible to take it seriously because we're talking about pigs, y'all, and I seriously doubt they care about boys on the other side of a fence calling them names. Avery's son, a precocious blond mite who is already wearing overalls with no other clothes just like his pa, exacerbates the unfortunate comedy by frequently pointing out that these are pigs, dad, pigs.

After his tirade, Avery retires to hang out with his wife, who serves him bacon for dinner. I'm pretty sure that the irony of having pig for dinner after so passionately defending pigs' rights to not be ridiculed is meant to be humorous, but all it really does is reinforce how stupid the pig metaphor was in the first place and enshrine Avery as a humongous hypocrite as he shovels pork into his righteously offended gullet. I think a further human rights metaphor can be extrapolated here, with Avery, as the "upper class" compared to the pigs, believing he's defending them even as he treats them as a food source and denies them their basic rights, but I don't have enough confidence in Paur's execrable screenplay to believe it's on purpose.

Because this is a time of extreme poverty in the United States, the local farmers and miners are not doing well at all and Bonnie's mother Margie, a widow with three children to support, discovers that her house is being foreclosed on and she's being evicted by the bank. The scuttlebutt around town is that a mysterious rich guy has moved into the long-abandoned mansion just outside of town and that he must be the one buying up all the bank's land, so off she goes to try to plead with him not to kick her out.

She is greeted by the snootiest butler in Christendom. This is Hans, and he is by far the most entertaining character in the entire movie. His face is a neverending string of sneers, pouts and contortions. He's wearing spats. If you don't love Hans, I don't know why you're watching this, because it's all downhill from him. At any rate, she convinces him to let her see his boss, the mysterious Mr. Ribaldi, whose name suggests he is probably not a dude you want to be left alone with. There's a lot of song and dance about how she can only go so close to him and isn't allowed to see his face, et cetera and so on, and Hans seems deeply concerned that she might set off a psychotic fit in his master if she doesn't behave herself.

Ribaldi - who doesn't wear a mask but is clearly our Phantom character, half-faced deformed in deference to the wildly popular Lloyd Webber musical - lives up to his name by being a total creeperpants. After shutting down all of Margie's attempts to pay him to release her property and beg him for compassion, he decides that she can keep the house free as long as she sends Bonnie alone to "work for him" every day. Dude, no. When she predictably said fuck you, because she may be poor but she is not pimping-her-daughter-out-to-strangers poor, he then had the exciting gall to get offended because he thought she was comparing him to an animal. I gotta tell you, dude, when you make super sexually creepy proposals to women, you're going to have to be prepared for them to think you have the morals of a wild animal. I cheered for her refusal to send Bonnie over, although I was later confused and annoyed when she explained that she did so because she thought Ribaldi was "too cold" and unfeeling to be a good influence on her daughter. What.

Incidentally, don't hurt yourself trying to figure out why Ribaldi has an Italian last name but he and Hans both have Germanic accents. It's not going to be explained. Maybe they're from the Swiss part of Italy.

If it's not immediately obvious, we're doing a very clear takeoff on the beginning of the Beauty and the Beast fable here, with a parent held metaphorically in the beast's clutches and being faced with the choice to manage or deliver her daughter (cunningly named Bonnie, a form of "pretty" or "beauty") to him. The French fairytale is a very strong plot motivator all throughout this film, to the point where I really wasn't even sure if we should bother calling this a Phantom movie, but in the end I decided that enough of the iconic Phantom ideas were present, including the half-face deformity and the strong emphasis on music, to qualify it.

Eventually, because The Plot Must Go On, Margie makes the mistake of telling her precocious offspring about the creepy man who wants her to go to his house every day and Bonnie of course immediately demands to be allowed to do it in order to help save their home. It's hard to judge Margie, who is clearly desperate and unhappy about the situation... but it's so goddamn creepy, y'all, I am not lying.

At any rate, Bonnie does start going to the house, to do... I don't even know, because while the movie clearly isn't going to do something terrible involving child slavery or pornography, it also doesn't really explain what she's supposed to be doing here. Dusting, I think. A dash of Bluebeard is thrown in with the room that she Must Never Enter, Ever, Hans is Very Serious About This, although that particular element seems to be coming in filtered from Disney's Beauty and the Beast and its ominous west wing. In fact, many elements of this movie are clearly cribbed from the Disney film of two years previous, with the most egregious example being a blatant rip-off of the famous seven-note musical intro from the Disney movie being repeated several times in this film's score (but always followed by something original to stave off the possibility of copyright problems, of course).

Meanwhile, the townsfolk, who are by now convinced that the mysterious rich guy up on the hill must be the one stealing their property via bank purchases and defaulted mortgages, are brewing an obvious witchhunt against Ribaldi. I'm no fan of Ribaldi at this point in the movie, but the writing here is comical again, with the townspeople outright calling him a "monster" (on the basis of rumors, and since none of them have actually every seen him I don't know where those are coming from), whispering that he only comes out at night and heavily caricaturing themselves despite all the work the beginning of the movie put in trying to make them sympathetic. It's seriously like watching the film version of Oak Grove, the ridiculous little community in Stuart's 1991 Phantom novel.

Now, despite the obvious role of the Phantom going to Ribaldi, the role of Christine in this movie is actually split, and not always particularly obvious. Certainly Bonnie functions as such most of the time, especially in regards to being the fresh, innocent young ingenue who is taught by the doting Phantom to realize her talent and potential, but here we're introduced to the other contender for the position, Gabriela, an adult student of Ribaldi's who is quite obviously in love with him and clearly gives no fucks about his face, but who is still dealing with him constantly kicking her out and yelling at her for some reason. The movie in effect avoids the problematic subconscious ideas of incest and child molestation that the original novel had by splitting Christine into one pure, untouched child student and one adult love interest, and then summarily boots said love interest out of the movie for most of its run.

Which is a shame, really, because Gabriela (who shares her name with several heroes and heroines of other Phantom versions, likely because it's the name of an angel and therefore an easy place for authorial shorthand) is pretty awesome. Despite his autocratic overbearingness and decision in this scene to frighten the wits out of Bonnie for looking in the forbidden room (girl! seriously!), she's not in the slightest bit intimidated and tells him off in no uncertain terms for his bad behavior. She's also clearly very close to him and sympathetic, showing no fear or revulsion for touching his injured face, but despite that sympathy is having none of his self-pitying monologue shit. She also uses his first name, Ari, which is the only time in the film it will be revealed. But off she goes, because this story isn't about her for some reason. Alas.

We can now finally see Ribaldi's deformity, which appears to be some form of... burns, probably? It's hard to tell from the makeup job, but he has a distended and misshapen cheek and forehead that look like they might have suffered a heat-related crisis at some point. The makeup is clearly a different color from his skin tone, which makes it difficult to take it seriously, but I wasn't sure whether this was intentional to match the fairytale from the beginning, making the injured area paler to cover the "death-like" idea, or just a case of poor makeup or lighting.

Ribaldi's ranting about how Gabriela is the "product of his genius", her self and voice created by the molding of his incredible musical talent, is a familiar one to fans of the Phantom story, who are used to seeing Erik yell about how he made Christine and her voice. While Ribaldi doesn't bring anything new to the old saw, it did amuse me to note that he doesn't do it until Gabriela is out of the room, presumably because she would have none of it so fast his head would spin off. It's also surprising and gratifying that Bonnie calls him on the ego-trip as well, although she doesn't do it for long because she's too busy being seduced by the idea that maybe he can teach her to sing through yelling and then she'll get to show that mean girl who's really queen of the Talent Showcase.

Paur's script continues to be mightily clumsy, but it nevertheless does manage to convey, through stilted monologues from Ribaldi, the idea that there is some question about whether his nasty personality is a result of his ugly face, or he has an ugly face because he has a nasty personality. This was a big theme of Leroux's book and it's nice to see it in a modern version, considering that it's usually left by the wayside once the idea of spiritual flaws causing physical ones went out of fashion some time after the Victorian era.

The people of Castle Gate stage an abortive witchhunt, which promptly fails to get very far off the ground when the catalyst, a little girl gone missing and purportedly stolen by Ribaldi, turns up at home in her nightie wondering what all the fuss is about. Their confusion is slightly comical, but the overall dullness of the movie had settled over me in earnest and it was all I could do to keep trucking and looking for relevant metaphors involving pigs. I kept trying to pause the movie to check Facebook, or do dishes, or nap.

The major plot development here is that the young girl (who did in fact go sneak into Ribaldi's house on a dare) who has turned out to not be missing has a perfectly hale and healthy leg, which we saw earlier in the movie in a metal brace that clearly broadcasted some kind of infirmity. This is of course a callback to the fairytale at the beginning of the film and Rigoletto's fabled ability to heal through music, which is a neat magic realism concept, but of course it's hammered all the way through the floor and into the heart of the planet because this is a movie for children and must therefore be as blatantly obvious as possible in case they don't understand what's going on.

There is way too much dead air in this movie. Like... cut all the unnecessarily long pauses, and we'd be half an hour closer to being finished and getting drunk.

When Bonnie finally gets up the courage to ask Ribaldi to teach her, he answers with a brutal takedown of her voice, informing her that she sings like a goat (well, I wasn't going to say it) and dismissively informing her that she'll never have what it takes to be a real performer. Bonnie's sassy when people are being dicks to her, that we can give her, but Ribaldi successfully shuts her protests down by resorting to some singing himself, launching into "The Curse". I have no complaints about Paur the Actor, who has a surprisingly lovely mellow baritone and carries the song, despite its trite lyrics, dramatically and intensely enough to involve both the audience and Bonnie. The verses of the song are a bunch of poorly-scanning pap about the worst curses being those one inflicts on oneself, and while they're uninspired and I wish I had something nice to say about the words themselves, the sentiment is an appropriate one for a Phantom story, and a rare moment of introspection pointed at another character. It's interesting that Ribaldi is, like the original Erik, fully aware that he's at least as much at fault for his sorry state as whomever inflicted it on him, and the change in dynamic from an adult Christine to a youngster Bonnie means that he's basically indulging in a soliloquy, explaining something that he knows she isn't going to understand or relate to.

She understands that he sounds great, though, and her awe apparently plays to his ego enough to get her those lessons after all. Hooray! Start with breath support, please.

Meanwhile, in the town, several of the children are turning up mysteriously healed of their afflictions, including half-blind tots becoming fully sighted and Porter overcoming his lisp to become a master storyteller. This clearly calls for a witchhunt. Get the pitchforks!

I just wrote "lol, hugging" at this point in my notes, which I'm pretty sure refers to the point in the movie where Bonnie starts just bear-hugging Ribaldi all the time. He looks as uncomfortable as I feel; I still haven't forgiven him for a lot of his assery earlier in the movie, although thanks to Bonnie's influence he is now well on his way to becomeing a shiny, happy, fully rehabilitated gentleman hero.

You know who's the most delightful character in this entire movie? It's still Hans, the butler, played by John Huntington. He is hilarious, not to mention comparatively one of the better acting talents present (man, if this had just been a buddy-cop movie between him and Ribaldi, I would probably have enjoyed it way more). Alas, his employer abuses him pretty soundly on both professional and personal levels, and these are usually played for laughs for the kiddies (as is his overly-prim, easily-offended demeanor) rather than recognized as pretty shitty things to do to a person, but I enjoyed him despite the sadness of his life. Hans, you don't have to hang out with this ass - go be free! Tour Europe, meet a nice fairy lady, whatever you want to do!

We now embark on a textbook early-90's training montage of Bonnie learning to sing, at the end of which she is still not very much fun to listen to. I was cherishing some hope that she was being intentionally breathy and flat in the beginning of the movie so as to effect a dramatic improvement later and stun the judges, but it turns out she sounds exactly the same now as she did before Ribaldi's supposedly superlative tutelage. Apparently everyone in the movie is using ear trumpets, though, so she gets an invitation to a prestigious state vocal competition and flounces off in excitement, despite the fact that the townsfolk force an ultimatum on her that she can only compete or still hang out with Ribaldi, not both. Ribaldi, doing his duty as an admirable Phantom character, is annoyed but demands she give up her visitation rights to go win the competition, because god damn it, girl, I just worked hard on your voice, don't you dare sit in my pantry like a nit and waste it.

Anyway, it's fine, because while she's gone it's a Ribaldi + Random Children party, with various little mites trailing in and out to illustrate how much they all love him and how he enriches their small-town lives. While some of these are about as boring as you'd expect, two scenes in particular stand out as emotionally compelling: his comforting of Porter, the boy with the stutter, after he has a breakdown about his father, and his singing of "Dolce amor" to Georgie, who he refuses to teach to sing but treats much more kindly about it than he did poor Bonnie. Eventually this all culminates in him literally on the ground in a pile of children, which barely manages to not be too weird to handle. All the shots of children happily frolicking and making daisy chains feels like someone was trying very hard to make as many callbacks to The Secret Garden as possible.

Bonnie isn't allowed to see Ribaldi anymore, but Hans is still allowed to show up in a fancy car and drive her to the contest? These townspeople are not very consistent.

We spend the rest of the movie splitting our time between Bonnie at the competition, where we are subjected to far too much time listening to various child singers, none of whom are Charlotte Church I can tell you that damn much, and Castle Gate, where to no one's surprise Georgie has fallen off the local dam into the water as was heavily, blindingly foreshadowed earlier in the movie. Ribaldi, despite being slightly infirm and needing a cane to get around, dives in to save her, but predictably the confused (and confusing) townspeople decide to, you know, mob him and beat him to death, because apparently the theory is that he threw her into the culvert and then saved her and brought her back, or something. Eventually the owner of the general store comes to his defense with a shotgun that runs the mob off, but by that point there have been like twenty guys beating on him for ten minute and there is no way inhell he is not dead. The movie tries to give it a good go of being suspenseful, but seriously, no. The Phantom's death by angry mob strongly recalls the 1925 Julian/Chaney movie's famous ending for me, although Chaney had much more flair for the dramatic than poor Paur demonstrates here.

It's interesting to note that Ribaldi not only doesn't do anything to stop this - he doesn't even protest his innocence, and when someone asks him why the little girl was with him makes the incredibly bad move of refusing to say - he almost seems to be actively inviting it, basically letting the townsfolk kick the shit out of him without so much as a single punch in self-defense. His stoic loss of Bonnie (which he seriously did not seem that upset about), decision to not even try to defend himself and subsequent death and (spoiler!) resurrection are not very subtle in their mirroring of the story of Jesus' sacrifice, although no one will outright relate his situation to religion at any point in the proceedings. Still, let's call a dead Jewish guy a dead Jewish guy: this is totally a Christ metaphor.

After being run off from kicking Ribaldi's ribs in, the mob decides to go trash his house for no apparent reason as well, I guess because they, like the mob in the much later Maranto novel, have unflagging stamina to run around being angry while covering a lot of ground. The scalping of Disney's Beauty and the Beast continues; when the leader of the angry stampede shouted, "I say we go up to that castle in the sky and see what the monster's done to us!", even John said, "Oh, my GOD," out loud from across the room.

Unsurprisingly, of course, they discover that his ledger is not full of mortgages stolen from under their povertous noses but rather crammed with records of his healing services for the children and adult townsfolk, not to mention several monetary donations they had not previously suspected had come from him. Much sheepishness ensues, but that don't make Ribaldi less dead.

Sigh... alas, the end of the movie is both predictable and annoying, with Ribaldi returning to life in his mansion with a totally unscarred face, and Bonnie somehow deciding this must be a different guy despite him looking and sounding exactly the same and playing a piece of music she knows Ribaldi wrote specifically for her. Directors, authors, playwrights, lend me your ears: seriously, the lack of a deformity is not a disguise. Human beings are able to recognize all kinds of parts of one anothers' bodies. Bonnie does eventually figure it out, but apparently it is a magical secret only she knows, because everyone else is just like, "Oh, glad that nice old guy is leaving."

And off he goes with his lady fair Gabriela, giving his name as Rigoletto as a parting shot, and we end the movie right back where we started, with Bonnie reading from her fairytale book but now moonily declaring that she believes in its truthiness. There was palpable relief in my house when we were able to finally switch this off and go back to watching Star Trek reruns.

The film actually does have a lot of good messages for children: don't ostracize or ridicule people who are different from you, don't judge others based on their wealth or lack thereof, don't solve problems with violence, believe in your own talents and worth, there are different kinds of beauty and not all are societally approved, and so on. And, as I know from my own experience loving movies that were not actually good as a child (can I get The Canterville Ghost with Richard Kiley,?), most of its tooth-grinding flaws are probably invisible to small eyes and ears, who would enjoy Bonnie's uncomplicated voice, the easy-to-spot morals, and the exciting mystery of it all. That, combined with the fact that it grew on me slightly over the reviewing process, has led to it inching its way up into the C range, where it will hang on by the half-moons of its fingernails.

I'm taking away with me a faint memory of too many hours of mediocre singing, and the impression that people in the Great Depression apparently always had ninety-five children each.

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