Try as they might, no filmmaker is ever going to get a book-to-movie adaptation 100 percent "right." And the problems in translating novels to the big screen are only compounded when the original work is considered a classic.
So even if "Madeline" isn't as good as the Ludwig Bemelmans children's books that inspired it, this family comedy-adventure can still be forgiven - it's sweet and has a good message at its center.And hey, things could have been a whole lot worse. "Madeline" isn't crass and mean-spirited like the new "Dr. Dolittle" remake with Eddie Murphy (although it does have a couple of needlessly vulgar gags).
Still, there is a somewhat troubling lack of energy, as director Daisy von Scherler Mayer ("Woo") plays scenes out in such a low-key manner that the movie drags in places, especially the first half. Fortunately, young Hatty Jones has enough charm to make up for that shortcoming.
The newcomer stars as the title character, a tiny schoolgirl who's always getting herself - and her put-upon teacher Miss Clavel ("Fargo" Oscar-winner Frances McDormand) - into trouble. Her pranks include sneaking a dog into the no-pets-allowed school and turning her classmates into vegetarians.
But Madeline must put her prankster skills to good use when mean Lord "Cucuface" Covington (Nigel Hawthorne) threatens to close the school and sell the building. (As an orphan, the youngster has no other home than with Miss Clavel and her classmates.)
She also has to help foil the kidnapping of Pepito (newcomer Kristian de la Osa), a young Spaniard whose ambassador father lives next door to the school.
There are quite a few silly moments (such as some inappropriate flatulence humor - although it's not on par with most so-called kids movies). But on whole, the movie is done in a very lighthearted manner.
A trio of screenwriters (including two television series veterans) does its best to capture the whimsy of Bemelmans' prose and largely succeeds, thanks to Jones' winning debut performance.
Also, there's no underestimating how the film benefits from having two accomplished character actors (McDormand and Hawthorne) in its cast.
"Madeline" is rated PG for slapstick violence, a couple of vulgar sight gags and use of a couple of mild profanities.