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‘The New Adventures of Pippi Longstocking’ (G)

By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
August 01, 1988

Judging from "The New Adventures of Pippi Longstocking," the novels by Swedish writer Astrid Lindgren are better read than filmed, at least by Americans. It's hard to imagine any of the Swedish adaptations being as smarmy and inept as this one; it's just as hard to imagine Lindgren sending Pippi to Hollywood again anytime in the near future.

Pippi, the freckle-faced 11-year-old redhead with elevated pigtails, may be an enduring and endearing literary character, but as embodied by New Jersey's Tami Erin she's a self-centered, selfish and insensitive little child who runs totally out of control. Of course, she is the ultimate latchkey kid, since her mother is long dead (they still communicate through a cloud) and her ship's captain father is usually out to sea -- literally washed out at the film's start.

Somehow, Pippi, her pet horse Alphonso and signifying monkey Mr. Neilson survive that shipwreck and end up in an empty house in a small coastal town. No one seems to think this is strange, particularly the two kids next door who see her as the ultimate playmate of the year, what with the food and pillow fights, running away from school and home, and paying attention to no laws, including those of gravity and table manners.

A few clouds aim to obstruct the sunshine of her life: Developers try to get her land and her gold treasure; a local orphanage tries to draft her; school beckons. Pippi resists, opting instead for creative anarchy, a sort of Animal Playhouse. When adults do show up, they're usually pompous, interfering, manipulative, scolding or otherwise antichild.

With Pippi, it's not hard to understand why. A mix of Debbie Gibson and Mary Lou Retton, she breaks into insipid song or turns cartwheels at the slightest provocation. She lives by her own rules -- or more precisely, by disregarding other's rules. She's a fashion disaster. She's got no manners and no desire to keep a clean house (say, she's beginning to sound like a typical kid). Even when Pippi opts for school and settling down at film's end, she does it on her terms: Dad goes back to sea, leaving her to fend for herself. Well, he does promise to stay in touch.

There are a few alleged adventures and thin subplots in these "New Adventures," but they barely hold the film together (the one time adult supervision would have been helpful). Maybe those 10 and under will settle for such limited charms, but a matinee audience with some apparent Pippi-wannabees didn't seem particularly thrilled, much less excited. The credits say Ken Annakin wrote and directed, but barely managed is more like it. Oh well, anything that drives kids to reading can't be all bad.

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