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KIDS ON FILM

'Princess' Wins Loyal Following Among Girls

October 06, 1994|LYNN SMITH | Lynn Smith is a staff writer for the Times' Life & Style section.

In "Princess Caraboo," a journalist in 19th - Century England falls in love with a beauty who leads the aristocracy to believe she's a foreign princess but is suspected of being a fake. (Rated PG)

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Nowhere is it written that only girls can enjoy cute fairy tales and romantic adventures. I'm sure there are boys out there who might go willingly to this movie. They just weren't anywhere to be seen.

Instead, the theater was filled with girls ages 9 to 13, and their mothers. Most found the movie entrancing, if flawed. The ostensibly true story has all the required elements--the beautiful girl with unusual outfits and a secret, the great English countryside and Dickensian city scenes, the upstairs/downstairs accents, and the true love that flourishes only because it takes root beneath surface appearances.

The only thing missing is the sequel (or perhaps a TV sitcom?) that they are now eagerly awaiting.

Laurel Clark, 10, gave it a total thumbs up. "It was exciting. It had a lot of good jokes in it," she said, referring to those by Frixos, a Greek butler played by Kevin Kline, who wants at first to expose the princess. (As he serves her dinner, Frixos hisses, "I know you are a fraud and I spit in your soup.")

"The movie was just really funny and it kind of got sad at the end," Laurel said.

Her friend Erin Dawson, 9, said she thought "it was very happy in the beginning and at the end, and the pictures were very wonderful."

Both were surprised when the plot revealed "Princess Caraboo" was really an ordinary servant with an extraordinary imagination. The ruse is discovered by lonely journalist John Gutch after following a lead that she might be a former client of the Magdalen Hospital for Penitent Prostitutes.

"I was surprised," Erin said. "I thought she was a princess, then I found out she wasn't a princess, but she sounded like she was a princess. In the very beginning, I thought she was an Indian."

Some thought it was just too confusing.

"One thing happens with this one character, and then it skips over to another character and it was hard to follow," said Katy Nilsen, 12.

Some questioned the entire premise, saying they didn't understand why a servant girl would want to pass herself off as foreign royalty, although several hints were dropped that she yearned for adventure or a measure of revenge against the upper class. The girls speculated it was more likely power or money.

"I didn't think it was that good," said Elyse Chernoff, 12, who along with Katy were among the guests at 12-year-old Anupa Sanvordeker's birthday party outing.

"How can you say that?" asked the others. "I didn't think it made any sense," Elyse said. "It just didn't flow that well. To me, it just wasn't a very good movie."

But the other girls all laughed out loud when a pompous professor played by John Lithgow attempts to communicate with the "princess" by experimenting with languages full of tonal variation and glottal stops.

Brittany Gery, 12, said she liked the scenes where the "princess" would pretend to be praying in unusual places and move her arms in dance-like poses.

And most fairy-tale lovers were satisfied by the conclusion in which, true to the genre, the princess is rescued--in this case by a man less handsome than she but more powerful by virtue of his profession.

Even though he was no Prince Charming, Brittany said, "it reminded me of 'Cinderella.' "

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