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'American Girl' Heads to the Big Screen

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This summer, the American Girl doll is going where Barbie's never been: to the big screen. The film "Kit Kittredge: An American Girl" opens nationwide July 2nd. Jesse Baker has more.

JESSE BAKER: Kit Kittredge is only 10 years old, and already she's got a nose for news. It's 1934 and the Great Depression, and she can only think about one thing: selling a story to her hometown newspaper.

(Soundbite of movie, "Kit Kittredge: An American Girl")

Mr. WALLACE SHAWN (Actor): (as Mr. Gibson) Who is it?

Ms. ABIGAIL BRESLIN (Actress): (as Kit Kittredge) Margaret Mildred Kittredge.

(Soundbite banging)

Mr. SHAWN: (as Gibson) What do you want?

Ms. BRESLIN: (as Kit Kittredge) To be in print.

Mr. SHAWN: (as Gibson) Well, how do I say this nicely?

(Soundbite of door slamming)

Ms. BRESLIN: (as Kit Kittredge) But you haven't even read it.

BAKER: Kit's editor may not have read her story, but over 117 million books about American Girls have flown off the bookstore shelves in the past 23 years.

American Girl has nine historical dolls like Kit. Felicity is from colonial Williamsburg. Kaya's a Native American. Molly grew up during World War II. Each doll has six books in her series to describe her struggles during her particular era of U.S. history.

Ellen Brothers is the president of American Girl, and also one of the producers on the film.

Ms. ELLEN BROTHERS (President, American Girl): I think what American Girl is so good at doing is creating lasting moments for a girl and her family - her mother, her grandmother, her father - and really create an emotional connection with this brand.

BAKER: Emotional connection with a brand? That sounds like the total corporate sell. But I have to confess: I have an emotional connection with this brand. I'm 26 years old, and I've been an American Girl doll lover since I was nine. Of all my dozens of dolls, Kirsten - she's the pioneer American girl - remains my most beloved childhood treasure.

I can still tell you everything about her. She originally came from Sweden. Her rag doll's name is Sorry. She's a reminder of all the things I loved about my childhood, and something I want to be able to pass down to my child one day.

There were no American Girl stores when I was a kid. You had to order the dolls out of a catalogue and wait for the UPS truck to come. But now, at the American Girl story in Manhattan, you can buy your doll patent-leather Mary Janes, take her for tea, for a cooking lesson or to the hair salon for an up-do.

The girls there had no trouble explaining what they loved about their dolls. Here's 11-year-old Jessica Walls(ph), Nicole Knopf's(ph) eight, Jacqueline Beachum's(ph) nine, and 11-year-old Samantha Normandia(ph).

Ms. SAMANTHA NORMANDIA: Well, she has the same name as me, and she's really pretty.

Unidentified Child #1: You get to play with them and you get to dress them up.

Unidentified Child #2: She has funky stuff.

Unidentified Child #3: I kind of like playing with them more than, like, Barbie dolls because they're more real. It's like realistic.

BAKER: Girls like having a doll with a realistic identity, but how will it project on the big screen? Little Miss Sunshine herself, Abigail Breslin, embodies the wannabe kid reporter, Kit Kittredge, who writes about the impact the Depression has on her friends and neighbors.

(Soundbite of movie, "Kit Kittredge: An American Girl")

Ms. BRESLIN: (As Kit Kittredge) Frank, look. That's your bed.

Unidentified Child #4: What does that mean?

Unidentified Woman: Our furniture.

Unidentified Child #4: Foreclosure by order of the bank?

Unidentified Child #5: That means the bank's taking our house away.

Ms. BRESLIN: (As Kit Kittredge) Ruthie, it's not your fault. There's banks…

BAKER: The film's director, Patricia Rozema, says she wanted to take the feelings the girls already had for their dolls and build on them.

Ms. PATRICIA ROZEMA (Director, "Kit Kittredge, An American Girl"): Their hearts are as big as ours. Their feeling are strong. They respond as deeply, and possibly more to - because they're just not calloused yet.

BAKER: With 13 million dolls in tow, there's little doubt this will be the must-see for the girls this summer. But "American Girl" hopes to bring in more than just girls. Rozema says there's something in it for the boys, too.

Ms. ROZEMA: There's adventure and there's humor and there's danger and there's excitement and there's car crashes, even, if you're…

(Soundbite of laughter)

BAKER: If the random sampling of the one boy in the entire American Girl store in Manhattan counts.

Mr. DIETRICH RIETSEMA(ph): I don't really like American Girls. I'm not a fan.

BAKER: Not a fan is fine, but what if 10-year-old Dietrich Rietsema's sister wants to see the movie?

Mr. REITSEMA: If she goes, I think I'll go somewhere else with my dad.

BAKER: Director Patricia Rozema says if the boys can just get over the word girl in the title, they might even enjoy the film. For NPR News, I'm Jesse Baker. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jesse Baker