Having read this book as a kid and never having seen the movie, I recently rented this with high expectations for a wholesome family film with beautiful characters and scenery.
After seeing the film, I find it rather difficult to judge. It begs a balancing of the good and the bad.
THE GOOD: The on-location scenery-- Beautiful shots of true Alpine mountains.
The acting by the children, while not perfect, is above average. The kids act as kids would, not like Hollywood fantasy "little grown ups".
The faithfulness to the story's main elements is commendable. The film also gets better near the end which helps save it somewhat.
THE BAD: The terrible, distracting, synthesized music. A score should seamlessly blend with a film and add to the mood, whatever that may be. This film would be better suited without a soundtrack at all! The music is often intrusive, conveys moods opposite those of the story, and is terribly synthetic -- not the type of music you want for a traditional religious story that takes place in the majestic beauty of the Alps!
The small families up in the Alps all seem to be living in gigantic, expansive, lodge-like cabins! This really cut the realism of the story for me and took away from the intimate setting of the circumstances.
The acting, script, and character development of the elders in the film, especially the woodcarver and the grandmother is lacking.
VERDICT: The thing that really holds this movie together is the underlying story by Patricia St. John. It is a powerful one with valuable lessons to children -- and adults as well. Without it, this film wouldn't have been watchable. With it, it holds interest despite numerous shortcomings. I give it a 7 out of 10 because of the unusual, powerful lessons it offers. Without the excellent basis from St. John, this could easily be a 4.
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