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Little Women - Movie vs. Book
According to the Internet Movie Database's exhaustive records, Louisa May Alcott's novel "Little Women" has seen itself recreated in four TV series, four made for TV movies and five feature length movies since 1918. The most recent version appeared in 1994 and features Winona Ryder, Claire Danes, Kirsten Dunst, Samantha Mathis, Eric Stoltz, Susan Sarandon, and Gabriel Byrne. As a long time fan of the novel, who has happily carted her large leather bound gold-gilded unabridged edition whenever she has moved, I find that I was disappointed in this newest movie version. As a movie lover, however, I found the movie to be an enjoyable experience.
The decision of the screenwriter and director to cut out what I felt were several story arcs and scenes from the novel was very disappointing. For example, in the movie there is no mention of Beth's shyness, or of her overcoming that shyness to become friends with Mr. Lawrence. The scene in the novel where she gathers her courage to walk over to his house and thank him for giving her his piano is one of the most defining moments for Beth. Overall I found Beth and Mr. Lawrence to both be sadly underdeveloped in the movie. Mr. Lawrence appears in only three scenes, while many of Beth's key moments also vanished. Jo's wonderful tomboyish nature is also severely tone-down for this version. She does not say "Christopher Columbus"; nor any of her other slang words. We never see the scene where she longs to go be a soldier fighting in the war and wishes she were a man. They transformed the character of Meg from someone who longs for finer things and tends to be snobbish into the wise older sister who does not care about such things. Lacking is the wonderful moment when she realizes that she does not care about Mr. Brook's poverty as she staunchly defends her love of him against Aunt March. While Amy's quest for a perfect nose is mentioned twice, there is never a scene showing some of her efforts such as her wearing the clothespin on it at night to make is straight, nor do we get enjoy watching her artistic endeavors such as her attempts to make a plaster cast of her foot.
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It really was not unexpected, though, considering most of the first two chapters of the book were cut out of the film. We never get to see the scene where they grumble about having no Christmas presents and decide to buy ones for themselves, only to change their mind when their beloved mother comes home and they realize that they would rather give her presents than buy things for themselves. The simple joy of their giving the presents to Marmee before gathering to hear their father's letter would have been a more welcome opening. Indeed, we do not see very many of the lessons that the girls learned in the novel that turned them from young girls into little women. When Amy burns Jo's manuscript, later falls in the pond, and almost drowns because of Jo's anger, we never see Jo's disgust at herself nor do we see the wonderful conversation she had with Marmee about learning to control her anger.
More than likely this, and other scenes disappeared because they did not fit the new modern ideas being incorporated into it. The dialog often had a feminist and modernized slant to it. In many scenes, the message is clear that that the women of the March are independent and free thinkers who really do not need a man to do anything. There are also scenes with obvious modern touches, such as Meg and Mr. Brooks kissing in the doorway, and Laurie kissing Amy in the middle of a field. The girls in the book were raised to be "good girls"; and such public behaviors were not have been taken lightly at the time, especially considering that their father was a chaplain, which is something else never noted in the movie.
Still, one might wonder how I can say I found it to be enjoyable at the same time as I noted so many glaring faults. As a lover of both books and movies, I have had to learn how to view movies made from novels as stand alone pieces in order not to go mad from the conversions. As a stand-alone movie, I found that the 1994 version of Little Women was graced with good actors, well-done dialog, and a nice soundtrack. It was not spectacular, but it makes for a nice family movie. I wouldn't, however, recommend it to anyone who can't separate it from the novel it was "adapted"; from, for this adaptation is not as good as some of the earlier movie ones.