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When my daughter was five, it was not the easiest thing in he world to find some quality entertainment for her to watch that wasn't animated. Recalling several childhood Sunday afternoon with TV repeats of old Shirley Temples, I thought she might enjoy seeing a girl of similar age having adventures, being girly, and singing away. This is one of the very first film of Shirley's we rented, and I have to say I had forgotten what a nice little piece of confection it was.
Originally released in 1934, the film has since been well colourised, which actually suits it quite well. Poor Shirley Blake's father was an aviator, whose plane "cracked up", leaving her and her mother penniless. Her mother Mary had taken a job as a maid at the mansion of a quite well to do family who also have a daughter, to whom little Shirley's character is to act as a playmate. The other aviators at the field have made a pet out of Shirley, and her godfather, aviator James "Loop" Merrit especially makes sure she knows she is much loved. This is just as well, for the wealthy Smythe's look upon her as an encumbrance, with their bratty daughter Joy looking upon her as a wonderful opportunity to have someone to torment. The day comes though when Mary is hit by a car, and killed, leaving Shirley a true orphan. The Smythes are resolved to send her to an orphanage, but this is one act of selfishness too far for Uncle Ned, the oldest member of the family, and the one whose fortune it all truly is. His daughter happens to be visiting, and encourages Ned to seek to adopt Shirley, but Loop Merrit also seeks to gain custody of the child he has loved from the day she is born. Shirley loves them both, and is distressed to have to choose, while the Smythes hope Loop gets her so that their inheritance will be safe. Will Shirley, Loop, and Uncle Ned get a happily ever after, and will the Smythes get their comeuppance? Faster than you can reprise the film's flagship tune, The Good Ship Lollipop, all comes right in true sweet and sugar land style.
While it all sounds rather saccharine, its not so sweet that your teeth hurt. It's just sweet enough that the subject matter is not too heavy for the younger crowd, and the musical numbers by Temple are done quite well. Quite stealing the show though is child star Jane Wither's whose turn as young Joy Smythe is absolutely delicious. Her knowingly sly portrayal absolutely robs Shirley Temple of her audience every time they are onscreen together. Unsurprisingly, this led to her landing her own long term studio contract and launched her own successful career as a child star that continued well past adolescence. The scenes of peril, including the car scene, are well filmed and not too frightening, though it did lead to my then five year old daughter and three year old son becoming VERY conscious of when we crossed a street! That's not an overly bad thing at all, given that they were not obsessive about it nor did they have any nightmares or anything as children that age can be prone to do.
This being a Shirley Temple vehicle, it is unsurprisingly a musical. This is where the song On the Good Ship Lollipop originated, and its abut an airplane, not a sea going vessel by the way. There are a few other songs along the way but none so memorable, and if your child enjoys the songs as much as mine did, you can purchase a cd called Animal Crackers which contains many of Shirley Temple's songs on it, including this one. Other than being able to select watching it in colour or in black and white, in the edition we were sent, there were no special features on the disc. All told, it remains light and easy viewing for the under eight crowd and for the adult, a not too stressful trip through childhood fancy. It's a lightweight piece of childish period drama with a perky little girl just the ticket for any little princess and little boys too young to care its got a girl or two in it.