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O. C. LIVE | KIDS ON FILM

'Harriet the Spy' Sneaks in Lesson on Honesty, Its Consequences

In "Harriet the Spy," a young girl writes down all the details of what goes on around her--a hobby that results in a lot of fun and more than a little trouble. Rated PG.

July 25, 1996|MARK CHALON SMITH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Harriet is a pretty good role model for youngsters--clever, energetic and almost obsessively devoted to writing. This is one motivated girl.

But there's a downside to tiny Harriet: When her observations make it to her journal, they take on an edge.

The foibles of her friends, classmates and acquaintances are chronicled with detail approaching the perverse. When people learn what Harriet really thinks of them, things get a bit ugly.

Which seemed to confuse many of the children attending a recent screening at the Edwards Westminster Mall Cinema. With parents, aunts and uncles at their elbows (this is being touted, rightfully, as a family movie), they said they thought the feisty heroine was basically cool but somewhat hurtful.

The things Harriet said about her friends may have been true "but they were mean too," said 11-year-old Monica Forrest of Brea. "She made fun of them."

But did Monica appreciate that honesty is an important part of being a good writer? Should Harriet be admired for her commitment?

"Harriet the Spy," based on Louise Fitzhugh's popular book, isn't simplistic, which impressed Monica's uncle, James McGee, 31, of Studio City. He accompanied his niece hoping the movie would give them something to talk about.

"Many [family films] aren't very interesting, at least to me," he said. "This one was. . . . It brought up the consequences of doing certain things.

"If [Harriet] wasn't so observant, she wouldn't be as good as she is. But because she's observant, she offends people."

Ferdy Silvera, 9, of Westminster pointed out that Harriet isn't the only one in the movie who hurts feelings. When the journal goes public, some of the kids turn on Harriet.

Obviously, being a kid can be a nasty business.

"It's like you don't want to say bad things [about others], 'cause they'll say bad things about you," Ferdy noted.

Friend 8-year-old Sammy Lipton, also of Westminster, wasn't fretting over any of that.

He thought Harriet was just a girl who had fun roaming her hometown and getting into minor mischief and that the other kids in the movie also were just doing what kids do, which is being silly.

Sammy especially liked scenes in which Harriet's friends dance to rap and perform in weird costumes at a school program. "I laughed when they were up there," he offered.

His mother, Traci, 29, said "Harriet the Spy" is good entertainment because it doesn't bore adults and is lively enough to hold the attention of squirmy children. She also admired the director and writers' skill in conveying the complexities of Harriet and the other youngsters.

"Even when I knew I was watching a movie mainly for children, I felt like there was something for me," Lipton said. "You don't know what a relief that can be.

"Besides, I'm a big Rosie O'Donnell fan [O'Donnell plays Harriet's governess]. I enjoy her in everything. I even watch her [daytime talk] show."

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