Children's movies are often too saccharine, too silly, too dumb, too long or simply too insufferable for parents to sit through (unless they bring a book and a flashlight).
But "The New Adventures of Pippi Longstocking" is the first kids' picture in a long time to be all of the above.
This film is very badly conceived and produced, it has a lousy script and some of the worst child acting ever brought to the big screen. But that may not be the fault of the child actors - even such veterans as Eileen Brennan and John Schuck look terrible here.
Based on the popular Swedish children's books by Astrid Lindgren (sloppily written and directed by Ken Annakin, whose up-and-down career includes the delightful "Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines" and the dreadful "Pirate Movie"), the story has stiffly pig-tailed Pippi (newcomer Tami Erin) aboard her father's boat during a terrible storm when they are washed overboard. Dad disappears and Pippi, accompanied by her talking horse and monkey, arrive in a small coastal town.
Pippi takes up residence in an abandoned house next door to the stuffy Settigrens (Dennis Dugan - anybody remember Richie Brockelman on the old "Rockford Files" show? - and Dianne Hull) and their two sweet kids (David Seaman Jr. and Cory Crow).
Pippi's encounters with her new neighbors are designed to charm us before you can say "Annie," which much of "Pippi" uncomfortably resembles. But instead my reaction was quite the opposite.
Pippi tries to make the Settigrens less stuffy, teaches their kids how to have fun and confounds the townspeople, in particular Eileen Brennan, operator of the local orphanage (it's amazing how large the orphanage is, considering how small the town is).16 comments on this story
But she does so by merely making messes everywhere she goes. Food fights seem to be the way to people's hearts in this movie. First it's a pancake batter fight, then an ice cream fight in the middle of Main Street and finally a cookie fight in a tree. Oh, yes, throwing soap and water all over a room and tearing up pillows is also apparently endearing.
That no one ever seems to clean up such messes is beside the point, of course. And Pippi's attitude that you can do anything you put your mind to might be OK in spirit, but when it includes jumping from a tree to fly and putting glue on your shoes to walk up a wall, parents may rightly wonder what their kids will get into once they leave the theater and get home.
Were all of this handled in a charming fantasy manner it would be more acceptable. Or if it were at all funny or witty. Or even well-made on a technical level.
Alas it is none of these, and since "Bambi" is playing in theaters right now, going to "Pippi" seems like unnecessary torture for parents to put themselves through.