Abigail Breslin as Kit Kittredge in Kit Kittredge: An American Girl

About The Production

Mention American Girl to any female aged three to 12 and the reaction may range from a sweet, ear-to-ear grin to a jumping-up-and-down ‘omigod omigod omigod’ frenzy. One of the top 15 children’s publishers in the nation, American Girl blends historical fact and inspirational fiction in stories that encourage girls to embrace their dreams. The company has sold more than 123 million American Girl books and 14 million American Girl dolls since 1986, and its award-winning American Girl magazine has a circulation of more than 620,000, making it the largest publication dedicated exclusively to girls ages eight and up.

But it was more than just that phenomenal success that inspired producers Elaine Goldsmith- Thomas, Lisa Gillan and Julia Roberts to approach American Girl more than six years ago with the idea of bringing the series to the screen. Roberts and Gillan, who are sisters, had learned about the unique appeal of American Girl from an expert: "Our mom—AKA ‘Grandma Betty’— was a regular supplier of American Girl dolls to our niece Emma, who really loved them,” say Roberts and Gillan. “Emma would introduce them to us as the real girls they are, sharing their background stories." "They really are girls, not just dolls,” adds Gillan. “They each have a history, a family, and a point of view. I think girls can relate and learn from each one's story."

For Goldsmith-Thomas, it was the combination of contemporary life lessons and history—and the unique way both are presented—that made the American Girl series such an appealing film project. “They never sugarcoat the girls’ stories,” she says. “Seeing the Depression or slavery or the loss of a parent through the eyes of a nine-year-old makes these stories unique. Comparing and contrasting life in different points of American history helps girls today understand that they are a part of history, too. The stories don’t make people from the past seem old-fashioned. They help create a connection between the past and the present. American Girl uses some great tools to teach kids to find the relevancy between their doll’s life and their own. As a filmmaker, that concept makes for compelling and interesting ways to approach bringing these stories to the audience.”

“We take girls seriously,” says Ellen L. Brothers, president of American Girl and producer of Kit Kittredge: An American Girl. “All of our stories are told through the eyes of our heroine—a nine-year-old girl who turns ten in the story. In this film, you’re seeing the Great Depression through the eyes of a very confident nine-year-old girl. And that’s what makes this story so special.”
Brothers says the idea of a movie had been percolating at American Girl for several years. “From the very beginning, we thought it was completely natural to make a feature film, but it was all brand new to us. We felt we had to get our feet wet first. When Elaine, Julia and Lisa came to us, we talked about made-for-television movies as a great first step in exploring whether our audience would like seeing their favorite American Girls in a live action format. When the success of those three movies proved to us that our audience loved seeing the characters come to life, moving to the big screen was a logical next step.”

The first American Girl movie, “Samantha: An American Girl Holiday,” aired in 2004, followed by two more made-for-television films based on the series. Gillan was an executive producer of all three. “The success of ‘Samantha,’ ‘Felicity’ and ‘Molly’ made it clear how much girls loved seeing "their girls’" stories come to life and made the transition to the big screen inevitable.”
“Without much in terms of marketing dollars, we did exceptionally well,” says Goldsmith- Thomas. “So after the third one, we started exploring a lot of options and pondering how to make the transition to theatrical releases.

“We all fell in love with Bob Berney at Picturehouse and Colin Callender at HBO because they were committed to maintaining the same high standards,” continues Goldsmith-Thomas. “They both totally got it. Like us, they realized that American Girl is not simply about selling books and dolls. It is about exposing young kids to beautiful, sincere characters with beautiful, sincere stories to tell.”

Berney was equally enthusiastic about the project. “We all agreed that Kit Kittredge was the perfect choice for the first theatrical release,” says the president of Picturehouse. “Kit is a wonderful character, a spirited, ambitious young girl living in very difficult times. Her story is inspirational in the way it teaches the importance of giving to those who are less fortunate.”
“It was my two daughters who introduced me to American Girl books, and I was struck by what wonderful stories they were – they were celebrations of different times in our history yet they dealt with real challenges of every day life that young people today can relate to. ” says Callender, president of HBO Films. “When you combine these great characters and stories with the remarkable marketing machine behind American Girl it seemed like a natural theatrical franchise.”

Once the partnership solidified in February 2007, things began to happen very quickly. “We were fortunate to have Ann Peacock write a truly heartwarming screenplay that attracted a great group of creative people from the start,” says producer Lisa Gillan. “Once Abigail Breslin signed on, director Patricia Rozema came on board as did the rest of our amazing ensemble of actors. It all came together unusually fast.”

Director Rozema, best known for her acclaimed 1999 film Mansfield Park, has two young daughters, so she was already very familiar with the American Girl books and dolls. “I loved Kit, this little reporter who wants to write, who wants to express herself, who wants to do good. So many kids’ movies are about, ‘Oh, I can have love, I am a princess, I own the world now.’ There aren’t many that show kids and adults trying to hang on when material goods aren’t flowing their way, and showing that what’s valuable is not material.”

Gillan believes that Kit’s story has a very timely message for modern girls. “It is a wonderful lesson for young girls who are seeing women doing more and more amazing things, like running for president,” she says. “I think Kit has an almost Churchillian point of view about life. He said ‘Never, Never, Never Quit’, and Kit doesn't seem to know the meaning of the word. Giving up doesn't seem to be at all part of her character.”

For Rozema, the first priority was getting all the characters right. “American Girl isn’t just dolls,” she points out. “It’s characters. The dolls are one representation of those characters. The books are a representation of those characters. I don’t think kids who know the character already from the books are going to be disappointed at all. There are new elements that you haven’t seen in the books, but this won’t be a situation where people say ‘Hey, the text said this and the movie says that, what’s going on?’ It’ll be more like, ‘Oh, here are all these lovely characters I know and recognize in this new adventure.’” According to Goldsmith-Thomas, the audience for American Girl films “isn’t just little girls and their mothers, as we found out with the three TV movies we made. Every American Girl character has some sort of family element, whether it’s parents or siblings or grandparents or aunts and uncles. An entire family can go to the theater and enjoy tagging along with Kit and her friends as they embark on an adventure.”

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