Film review: Heidi – delightfully old-fashioned take on classic children’s story
Newcomer Anuk Steffen delivers a crowd-pleasing turn as the lead character, who is plucked from tending grandfather Bruno Ganz’s goats in the Alps to keep wheelchair-bound Klara company
You’re not going to hear people talking plot twists or modern spins about this umpteenth take on Johanna Spyri’s classic children’s story. A handsomely crafted, if uncompromisingly old-fashioned, retelling of the titular Swiss orphan girl’s unusual childhood, director Alain Gsponer’s German-language adaptation of Heidi gently reminds the viewers what an absorbing tale full of well-defined characters can do for our viewing pleasure.
Played with a big, infectious smile by newcomer Anuk Steffen, poor little Heidi is put under the initially reluctant custody of her grouchy paternal grandfather (Bruno Ganz), a loner living in a cabin high up in the mountains, and wins him over in no time. Denied a normal education, Heidi spends her days tending grandpa’s goats when she isn’t hiking the gorgeous Swiss Alps with her goatherd friend, Peter (Quirin Agrippi).
The film soon switches gears when Heidi is spirited away by her aunt to an opulent Frankfurt household, where she keeps the wheelchair-bound Klara (Isabelle Ottmann) company. Under the watchful eyes of Klara’s haughty governess (Katharina Schüttler) and kindly grandmother (Hannelore Hoger), who inspires the illiterate girl’s interest in books, Heidi learns her manners before the story returns to the Alps for a poignant final act.
From the 1937 Shirley Temple vehicle to Studio Ghibli co-founder Isao Takahata’s 1974 anime series, Heidi, Girl of the Alps, the character Heidi has always been a ball of positive energy that, through her sweetness and innocence, inadvertently improves the more complicated characters around her. Steffen’s crowd-pleasing turn has achieved as much. Simple yet affecting, this film is an unassuming delight for both adults and children.
Heidi opens on June 16
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