The Scoop: 1988 G, directed by Ken Annakin and starring Tami Erin, John Schuck, David Seaman, Cory Crow, Dennis Dugan, Dianne Hull, George Dicenzo, Eileen Brennan, J.D Dickinson, Chub Bailly and Dick Van Patten.
Tagline: Come see Pippi as you’ve never seen her before!
Summary Capsule: Well, there’s a girl named Pippi Longstocking, y’see, and she has these adventures…
Deneb’s Review: Well, it’s been quite awhile since I penned (typed, whatever) one of my Tales of the VHS reviews, so… here’s another one. This one in particular is a little special, as it’s A: the first one in the series so far to be live-action (hey, I liked cartoons – still do), and B… well, read on and I’ll tell you why.
First, though, while I’m guessing most of you know who the title character is, here’s a brief primer. Pippilotta Delicatessa Windowshade Mackrelmint Ephraim’s Daughter Longstocking (Pippi for short) is a young girl who lives alone in a ramshackle old house called the Villa Villekula. She is possessed of lots of freckles, bright red hair (always done up in her signature twin braids), prodigious strength (one of her signature feats is lifting a horse, not to mention tossing around people well over twice her size), and an irrepressibly sunny and mischievous nature. That should tell you all you need to know about her, so onwards!
As the movie begins, Pippi (played here by Tami Erin) is living the high life on board the good ship Hoptoad, along with her father (John Schuck) Captain Ephraim Longstocking (who is implied to be a pirate of some variety, like he is in the books). Accompanied by her horse Alfonso (yes, a horse. On a ship. Don’t question it) and her pet monkey Mr. Nielson, she is perfectly happy roaming the seven seas and running wild on a pirate ship – who wouldn’t be?
Disaster, however, strikes without warning, and during a storm she and her father are separated. Adrift on a raft with her animal pals, she makes her way with unerring accuracy to the Villa Villekula, which is apparently both the family home (although the family evidently hasn’t lived there for years) and the designated meeting place for Longstockings to go to when they get lost. There, the arrangement goes, she will wait for her dad until he can come and pick her up – if, of course, this is still an option for him.
As it happens, right next door to the Villa live a couple of kids by the name of Tommy and Annika (David Seaman Jr. and Cory Crow, respectively). They’ve been curious about the old place for a while now, and have recently been wishing that someone lived there – specifically, someone their own age that they could play with. Wouldn’t that be nice?
Why yes, it would be nice. And lo! And behold! Pippi shows up out of nowhere, moves in, and before you can snap your fingers, Tommy and Annika have a new friend to play with – the wildest, funnest, craziest, defying-realityest friend they could have asked for.
Needless to say, the adults in town are not quite so thrilled about this. Evil developer Dan Blackhart (George DiCenzo) wants her out of there so he can bulldoze the Villa and build on the land – oh, and lay claim to the fortune in pirate’s gold that the Longstockings have piled up in there. Miss Bannister (Eileen Brennan), who runs the local orphanage, wants her out because she’s a minor living alone (and because she’s been humiliated by said minor more than once). And while Tommy and Annika’s mom (Dianne Hull) seems to like the new friend her children have picked up, their dad (Dennis Dugan) sees her as a disruptive, chaos-bringing pest who needs to be booted out of the Villa as soon as humanly possible so life can get back to normal.
Pippi is not so easily dislodged, though, and proceeds to have lots of fun with her new friends, turning things upside down and wreaking merry (if innocent and well-meaning) havoc. She knows her dad’s still out there, and he’ll come to get her one of these days. Meanwhile, there’s nothing saying she can’t enjoy herself while she waits…
While I haven’t had the opportunity to confirm this, I think most people – at least, most people who have grown up since the invention of the VHS and/or regular movie showings on TV – have one film that is very precious to them. They saw it a million times when they were kids, and while it may not necessarily be their favorite film of all time, or even from back then, there is still something about it that just makes something inside them go click. Somehow it seems to sum up and evoke for them the wonders of childhood, and brings back a little of them on every viewing. For many, that film is The Goonies, or something similar – for me, it’s The New Adventures of Pippi Longstocking.
Folks, this honestly is going to be a difficult one to critique properly, because this film is a little piece of magic for me. I won’t pretend that it is anything close to a masterpiece when viewed from a standard critical viewpoint, but I cannot be fully objective here. I can’t. This is one of those cases where the rose-tinted goggles are on real tight, and I like ‘em that way, ‘cause they make me smile.
Perhaps, therefore, this movie was an unwise choice for a review. Too bad. I joined this site in part so I could tell people about the movies I love, and that, my friends, is exactly what I am going to do now.
Just to show you that I haven’t abandoned my critic hat entirely, though, let’s take a look at some of the less successful aspects of it first. The goggles may be on tight, but I can still see through ‘em, after all, and not all the details are exactly flawless.
To start with, if you are a Pippi Longstocking purist (and yes, they do exist; you can be a purist about anything and that certainly includes Pippi Longstocking) you may find yourself a bit disgruntled with this film. Pippi herself is a bit older than the character from the books, who is nine – at one point, they say she’s eleven, but according to Wikipedia, Tami Erin was twelve years old in ’88, and looks a bit older. (Although, to be fair, I don’t know just when they were shooting; maybe she was eleven at the time.) This isn’t a problem so far as I’m concerned, but if you’re expecting a tiny little sprite playing Pippi, you’re in for a surprise.
Furthermore, the books are set in Sweden, the nationality of their author, Astrid Lindgren. This being an American movie, the location of the Villa has been changed to the US, probably on the East Coast somewhere, although it’s never stated one way or the other. If ‘Americanization’ gives you the horrors and makes you grind your teeth, then… well. You may have a problem with this.
Further-furthermore, this is far from the most polished production in the world. There are some special effects that don’t really fly by modern standards, and while none of the acting is bad exactly, the set-up inevitably means that there are a lot of child actors in this film, and as is inevitably the case in such situations, this means a rather broad spectrum of acting. Some of it is good, some of it is decent, some of it is just OK. And while none of the more adult actors are doing a bad job, they… well, you know how some actors in a kid’s film will give it their all like in any other project, while others will go ‘hey, kid’s film; no realism required!’ and ham it up like a whole barrel full of Richard Burtons? Yeah. They do that here, too. I’ll give some specific examples a bit later, but this is not exactly Masterpiece Theater we’re dealing with here, shall we say.
Further-further-furthermore, TNAoPL exists in that weird in-between state of not being quite sure if it’s a musical or not. I’ll talk about the songs themselves in a minute, but suffice it to say that sometimes they’re just playing on the soundtrack, and other times people are actually singing them, and the movie seems to cut back and forth from this seemingly at random. I don’t think Pippi and company ever actually sing a whole song, but they do at times seem to be singing the chorus – or part of the chorus – which is confusing when most of the song, including the bit that they are singing, is clearly being belted out by an adult singer. Also, at one point Pippi, Tommy and Annika seem to be randomly singing Pippi’s theme song, which… I dunno. Isn’t that a little gauche? You don’t see me walking down the street going ‘Oh, Deneb T. Hall, he’s the best of all; you name it, he’ll do it, be it great or small.’ (Not that I wouldn’t like to, but…) Of course, she is Pippi Longstocking, known for her irrepressible nature, so I guess she can get away with it, but still. It’s weird.
Further-further-further-fu… ah, screw it. Additionally, there’s no denying that the plot, while there and workable, is episodic in the extreme. It’s not so much one continuing thread as a series of chunks linked together by characters and plot elements in common, with a bit of cause-and-effect in place, but not much – if there were any more of it, Pippi would be in jail or the orphanage by the end of chunk number two. You can almost hear a narrator going ‘and that was the end of that adventure! Now, the next day…’
Basically, we are not dealing with a flawless production here. It does have flaws, plenty of ‘em, and those flaws are exactly the ones you’d expect to find in a late-‘80’s middling-budget kid’s film. If those are precisely the sort that make you twitch uncontrollably, then… perhaps you should get some help for that?
All right. Enough of such stuff. Pish-tush to that rot. Because none of it matters. Pippi Longstocking is still kick-ass, and here’s why.
Those flaws? All part of the charm. Sure, the special effects are a bit dated – time passes; what did you expect? Sure, it’s a bit Americanized – it’s an American movie; live with it, people. Sure, the acting is not always brilliant and the songs could be better-integrated and the plot is all chunky – who cares? These are flaws the movie shares with zillions of others; what one needs to focus on are the things that make it unique, that make it special – and TNAoPL has those in spades.
First off, there’s Pippi herself. Sure, Tami Erin may have been a little old for the role, strictly speaking, but she gives her all here, and you will definitely be thinking of her as Pippi first and foremost by the end of this film. She is just so enthusiastic about it all, radiating energy from every part of her, be it her big grin, her trademark ponytails, or her tendency to randomly turn cartwheels. (That’s totally ‘a part of her’; shut up. I make my own definitions here!)
More than that, though, she brings a certain indefinable something to this role that just makes it hers. This Pippi may be slightly watered down in terms of the book-version’s kooky eccentricity, but she genuinely does come across as (to quote her theme song) “the one who’s fun to be around”. It is her presence that makes the film work as well as it does; it turns what would otherwise be gaping gaps in logic into perfect sense, because that’s just the way things are when she’s in town. She is the avatar of and catalyst for a childlike point of view; she makes things work the way everyone thinks they work while they’re kids. While she’s around, you genuinely can cobble together the craziest inventions from scratch and power them via foot-power and nonsense, and they’ll work, just like you always thought they would. Physics? Common sense? To beans with that rot, Pippi’ll make it go! She is an infectious carrier of joyous illogic, and seen from her viewpoint all the crazy things she does actually make a fair amount of sense.
That’s rationalizing, though. When you get right down to it, Pippi, in any continuity (and this is certainly no exception), is the friend every kid wishes they could have (and heck, probably a lot of adults as well). She’s just so cool! She lives all on her own, makes her own rules, is super-strong, has cool pets, always comes up with the most awesome stuff to do, is loaded with cash (gold doubloons, no less!) – heck, she owns a motorcycle! You never know what is going to happen around her, but it’s almost always fun. (Even cleaning the house. Watch it and tell me that doesn’t look fun.)
Note, however, that I didn’t say she was the person every kid wishes they were. Sure, she’s fearless and funny and smart and all that, but (and it is to the movie’s credit that it addresses this), while she may be perfectly at home in situations where she can work her Pippi-mojo, she does have some trouble dealing with how the world normally works. She has, after all, lived most of her life up to this point on board a sailing ship with her main friends being a horse and a monkey, and with her primary guardian being a man who is equally as oddball as her. As a result, she just doesn’t quite fit in – her logic does not mesh well with the harsher logic of reality; she’s had little-to-no grounding in the rules, regulations and mannerisms which we all unconsciously obey, and while the movie is smart enough not to dwell too much on this, when it does, it’s honestly kind of poignant. She genuinely doesn’t understand why the people who run things don’t or won’t understand what seems to her to be a perfectly reasonable way to live her life – why can’t they stop picking on her and let her be?
Everyone, of course, can empathize with this – we’ve all felt ostracized and put-upon at some point – so it’s really a clever little bit of filmic wizardry. On the one hand, we’re on Pippi’s side – of course we are; she’s the heroine and she’s awesome. On the other, it’s made pretty clear that a fair chunk of what works for her probably wouldn’t work for us, and that there are some things that she is wrong about (at least, so far as the society we live in is concerned), and it’s worth learning from her example what not to do, as well as what to do. Thus the ever-present parental concern of ‘oh, my kids will imitate this’ is neatly cut off, and all without the slightest hint of lecturing – to the point where I really only realized that they were doing this as I was writing this review! Not bad, m’sieu le director!
Following Pippi, I think what sticks in a lot of people’s heads are the songs. They, as indicated above, are admittedly a bit of a mixed bag – ‘Sticky Situation’, for instance, rather defines pointless, even though it’s not terrible in and of itself – but when they’re good, they’re good. I defy anyone not to hear ‘We Live On The Seas’, for example, and not have it rattling around their cranium for the rest of their lives. Even the mediocre ones do suit the mood of the scenes they accompany quite nicely, and while the characters’ kinda-sorta singing along is still something that confuses me, I will gladly acknowledge that it adds a certain gleeful energy to the proceedings. True, they’re all basically late-‘80’s pop in terms of style, but – what can I say? They work, and if you don’t like that sort of music, there’s not really enough of it to become annoying. (I can’t really comment one way or the other, as at this point I have no choice but to like them; they’ve been popping up on my internal playlist often enough over the years that it’s either that or infuriation. I chose liking ‘em.)
Apart from that, the film does a pretty good job of grounding itself in that kinda-the-‘50’s-but-not-specifically era that a lot of films like this are set in. It was a good choice, I’d say, since the books were written around the same time, and a version of Pippi Longstocking that set itself specifically in the filmic ‘80’s would be… well, weird. (Pippi and a neon-big-hair-and-Nintendo atmosphere do not mix.) As is often the case, setting things some time in the nebulous past keeps them from seeming dated, and it just evokes a more innocent sort of an overall feel, which is appropriate for a kids’ book adaptation.
Speaking of which, that’s one last thing I’d like to address before wrapping up – this feels like what it’s adapting. Sure, it’s dipping into Americana rather than… uh, Swedishiana… but that aside, this does genuinely feel pretty close to a Pippi Longstocking book. Because here’s the thing; you can grump about TNAoPL’s episodic nature as much as you like, but that’s just what the books are like. Heck, that’s what a lot of children’s literature is like, to some degree. Pippi’s adventures are chronicled on a chapter-by-chapter basis, with a different adventure each time, which is more or less exactly what the movie does. Episodic or not, the people who put this thing together knew their Pippi, and while the feel of it may be altered, the overall effect is the same – and really, isn’t that about as much as can be asked of any adaptation?
Getting on to the rest of the actors/characters, the split is really more between children and adults than heroes and villains, so I’ll tackle ‘em that way. Apart from the title character, the main protagonists of the movie are Tommy and Annika, our ‘viewpoint’ characters; they’re the normal kids who we’re supposed to relate to. Inevitably, they come across as a bit dull compared to the effervescent explosion of energy that is Miss Longstocking. Neither David Seaman Jr. nor Cory Crow are bad actors, exactly, but they are a tad wooden at times, Tommy especially coming across as the straight man of the group – and while I rather like Crow’s enthusiastic performance of Annika (the kid had a real charisma and energy to her), there’s no denying that her delivery can occasionally seem a bit forced, with at least one genuinely flubbed line that I’m surprised was kept in. Still, these are the perils of working with child actors, and Tommy and Annika from the books are just about the same, so they honestly do a pretty respectable job. If nothing else, the two of them come across as a believable brother-sister pair, and they do have some nice chemistry with Pippi. The only other child character of note is the orphanage’s nameless head girl, played by Fay Masterson. Her character is not terribly important, but she does more or less manage to define the snippy, bossy, tattletale teacher’s pet type while not dipping completely into stereotype territory.
On to the adults. Somewhat mirroring the last bit, the most prominent adult characters are Tommy and Annika’s parents (who don’t get names – the family name is apparently Settigren, but this is brought up exactly once, so I won’t bother using it). While Dianne Hull and Dennis Dugan are both good actors and do creditable jobs in their roles, the way their characters are written is rather odd. As mentioned above, the dad thinks Pippi is a pain in the neck and wants her out of there, while the mom thinks she’s fine – but this seems to be set in place almost immediately, with little regard for reality. In other words, the dad overreacts to his first meeting with her while the mom underreacts – he gets wildly annoyed over something relatively innocent, while she isn’t even slightly startled or put off by what is admittedly strange behavior. She’s all ‘oh, how delightful she is!’ while he’s all ‘I’m getting her out of there if it’s the last thing I do!’ and in neither case is this exactly the reaction you’d expect. Sure, their positions do evolve during the film – the dad does eventually loosen up a bit and learn to accept Pippi’s presence, while the mom grows slightly disillusioned with her when she realizes just how loopy a person she really is – but it’s an odd starting point; let’s put it that way.
The other main group of adults are the villains, and let’s start with the undisputed leaders of that category, Mr. Blackhart and his two minions. This guy is – wow. I have seldom seen a more blatantly stereotypical ‘bad guy’ in all my life. Sure, he never actually does anything all that villainous besides constantly scheming to nab the Villa for himself, but I mean for crying out loud; his name is Dan Blackhart and the first thing we see him doing is gloating about the fact that he’s going to make money (he thinks) out of demolishing the place. George Dicenzo makes Blackhart an ugly, sweaty, stubbly, brutish character who seems to have exactly three modes – A, unctuous, B, cackling with evil glee, and C, in a mad fury in which he’s screaming and slapping his minions around (usually the latter). Speaking of said minions, let me introduce you to them – their names are Rype and Rancid (although I have no idea which is which; I’m fairly certain neither are ever actually called by name), and they are, if anything, approximately one million times more cartoonish than their boss. They whine, they snivel, they burst into laughter at the slightest pretext, they scream and yell and fight each other and bumble like mad and threaten the heroes and throw themselves around and act as punching bags and generally put more energy into being completely two-dimensional goons than anyone else I’ve ever seen. There are scenes where I’m honestly surprised these guys aren’t outlined in broad-tipped black marker, so over-the-top are they.
In another context, this bunch of clowns might sink the movie – and at some points, they do come dangerously close to doing so – but really, all the bad guys book-Pippi went up against were equally as cardboard cut-out-ish as these, and they are pretty funny at times, so I’ll give them a pass. The trouble, strangely enough, comes instead with the more ‘realistic’ villain, Miss Bannister. Eileen Brennan is apparently well-known for playing villainous roles, and she certainly starts out by living up to that, snapping and screeching and yelling and slapping her orphans around like they were dogs. She does practically everything but say ‘I’ll get you, my pretty’, and at first it seems like that’s going to be her sole role – being the nasty ‘caretaker’ of a bunch of innocent kids who wants Pippi under her thumb solely out of revenge. And had the character continued in that direction, I would have acknowledged her as another stock melodrama villain and moved on.
The thing is, though, she is completely in the right. Pippi is an unaccompanied minor living alone, and can give no proof that she has any living parent to act as her guardian – Bannister is just doing her job. And a bit more than halfway through, something weird happens to her – she starts becoming sympathetic. She reveals herself as a genuinely well-meaning character who believes everything she does is for Pippi’s own good. Sure, she’s wrong; her efforts don’t wind up helping her out one bit, but she doesn’t know that; she thinks she’s saving this child from a life as a vagrant. And all this would be fine, except she more or less switches gears without the slightest bit of warning, and the gear she’s shifting into is fourth from first – there’s practically no transition at all, and she’s very lucky she didn’t wreck the engine. (This metaphor is now officially retired.) The role of the character stays the same, so her change of heart doesn’t actually hurt the movie, but it’s a close thing. I like Miss Bannister fine, but I wish it had been better established that she has another side to her before we actually see it.
Finally, mention must be given to John Schuck’s Captain Longstocking. The Captain is in the movie for a rather short amount of time, but his role is a memorable one. Longstocking comes across as a thoroughly larger-than-life character, bellowing orders to his crew and beaming paternally at his daughter, who he clearly loves a great deal. He’s not quite as eccentric as she is, perhaps, but he’s the sort who you could genuinely see as Pippi’s father – he believes in giving her room to have fun and be her own person, and if he skimps a little on the more pertinent details, well… he is a pirate captain; there’s only so much he can do at the same time.
OK, all that’s covered; time for final thoughts. I clearly like this film – will you?
Well, that really depends on you. The New Adventures of Pippi Longstocking is clearly not going to appeal to someone who has little tolerance for children’s cinema, or is unforgiving when it comes to a film’s flaws. However, I think that even minus the nostalgia goggles I would find it a pretty decent little movie. It’s thoroughly unpretentious about what it is, has fun with itself, and does have a few genuinely inspired sequences and set-pieces. Kids will definitely get something out of it, and if you’re watching it with them, you may find yourself picking up on their appreciation. And if you, like me, happen to be a fan of kid’s flicks, I think you may genuinely enjoy watching it all by yourself. It’s a guarded recommendation, perhaps, but a recommendation it definitely is.
Folks, this movie is very special to me, and I hope I’ve done a good enough job of explaining to you why. Hopefully, I’ve convinced at least some of you to give it a try, and if you’ve already seen it a ways back, well… now might be a good time to see it again, yes?
Enjoy. Now if you’ll pardon me, I’d like to get back to my singing.
Life is a breeze, we live it for fun; no apologies to a-anyone…
- Pippi’s horse goes unnamed in the books. In Sweden, he’s best known as Lilla Gubbin (‘Little Old Man’), the name given to him in the Pippi Longstocking TV series from the ‘60’s. Here, he’s Alfonso.
- Although up ‘til now I was under the impression that the songs in the movie were complete as you hear them, in doing research for this review I discovered that this is not true. In fact, you hear only snippets of them; the complete versions can be found on the soundtrack album, some of which have been uploaded to YouTube. If you like what you hear in the movie, they’re worth looking up.
- Fay Masterson was one of the many other girls who auditioned for the title role (over 8,000 from all over the world). Although Tami Erin eventually got the part, director Ken Annakin was so impressed by Masterson that he wrote her into the movie as the head girl (a role which had not existed up ‘til then).
- Just what was a cow doing in that particular spot, anyway?
- Dan Blackhart and his goons are original creations, but are based on characters from the books. Blackhart himself is loosely modeled on a nameless man from Pippi in the South Seas who wants to buy the Villa Villekula for himself, while Rype and Rancid are renamed versions of Bloom and Thunder-Karlsson, a pair of thieves from book one.
- Astrid Lindgren ultimately agreed to allow producer Gary Mehlman to make the movie after she met his two young daughters, Romy and Alexandra, who were big Pippi fans. The girls are credited at the end of the movie as the ones who “provided the inspiration for this film”.
Song lyrics: Life is a breeze/We live it for fun/No apologies/
to anyone/We live on the seas/We do as we please/
From stem to stern/Each moment is now/Life without concern/
From aft until bow/We live on the seas/We do as we please.
Mr. Blackhart: I’ll knock it down; we’ll pour cement as far as you can see! Everything living gets cut down – nyahahahaha!
Annika: What are we going to buy today, Pippi?
Pippi: A grand piano.
Tommy: They don’t sell pianos in there.
Pippi: They might today!
Miss Messerschmidt: I won’t stand for rudeness in this class!
Pippi: Then please sit down.
Annika: Do ghosts have big shoes?
Pippi: Fantastic! I just love men in uniform. But policemen are the best!
Mr. Blackhart: I wonder if you’d be interested in selling this house?
Pippi: My home?
Mr. Blackhart: Yeah.
Mr. Blackhart: Yeah.
Pippi: HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! How can you sell a home? You can’t wrap it up, you can’t carry it away, and you certainly can’t fit it in your car!
Annika: See anything?
Tommy: No. Besides, you can’t see ghosts.
Annika: Well, if you can’t see ghosts, then what are we looking for?
Pippi: To play the piano without a piano takes a lot of practice, I can tell you.
Song lyrics: Scrubbing Day/Is a holiday/And the game we play/
Is as wild as it can get/Scrubbin’ Day/Is my favorite day/
‘cause on Scrubbing Day/We make everything get wet!
Annika: What would you hunt here anyway, Pippi?
Pippi: Oh, lions and tigers – and cannibals! I’m very good with cannibals.
Fridolf: In the beginning, there were… apples, oranges, and bananas.
Fridolf and Pippi: And Mr. Nielson loves bananas!
Pippi: I promised this fabulous swami in Chittagong that I’d never eat out on Tuesdays, and there’s nothing worse than lying to a swami.
Mr. Blackhart: Haven’t you bimbos learned anything from that brat yet? When you believe in something, you never give up!
If you liked this movie, try these:
- The Goonies
- Chitty Chitty Bang Bang