out of Five
Running time: 104
Viewers of a certain age will no doubt have fond memories of the dubbed 1977 German TV series of Heidi, as it was repeated on children’s television several times during the 1980s. In fact, it’s a safe bet that anyone who saw it will not only remember the theme tune (“Doo do do-doo do do-do-doo!”) but will also be able to do a good impression of Heidi saying “Grandfather!,
Johanna Spyri’s classic children’s novel Heidi has been adapted many times over the years but surprisingly, this is the first English version. This version does a pretty good job of condensing the story into
104 minutes, even if it occasionally wobbles in terms of the direction and performances.
The film stars Emma Bolger (the sweet little girl from In America) as Heidi, an orphaned girl who is sent to live with her grandfather (Max Von Sydow), a cantankerous cheesemaker, living high in the Swiss Alps. Being of a relentlessly cheery disposition, Heidi soon thaws his ice-cold heart, as well as striking up a friendship with ‘Goat Peter’ (Samuel Friend), an 11 year-old goatherd who lives further down the mountain.
However, Heidi’s idyllic mountain life is shattered when her money-grabbing Aunt Detie (Pauline McLynn) effectively sells her to a rich German family as a playmate for their crippled daughter, Clara (Jessica Claridge).
Max Von Sydow is, of course, perfectly cast as Heidi’s grandfather but he’s let down quite badly by the direction which fails to wring the maximum emotional impact from his scenes, particularly towards the end. His character also suffers from the film having to condense so much of the story into such a short space of time meaning that he is nice to Heidi almost immediately instead of remaining bitter and resentful.
Bolger herself is sweetness and light throughout, as the script dictates, although it does become a little cloying after a while and the more cynically minded might find themselves hoping someone finally makes her cry.
Samuel Friend’s performance as Peter is shockingly bad. He looks far too clean cut for the part, delivers his lines badly and frequently appears to be looking at the director for approval. Jessica Claridge is slightly better as Clara, but her weak performance can be excused, as Clara is one of the most pathetic characters ever written.
Paul Marcus’s direction is inexcusably poor in places, particularly during a horrendous special effects sequence in which Heidi and her grandfather sledge down the mountainside (it’s done with a backdrop and looks like something out of the 1960s). He also fails to inject any real life into the story and bungles almost all of the key emotional scenes including Peter and the wheelchair and the grandfather finally accepting Heidi.
In short, this is a perfectly watchable film but it’s not particularly sophisticated and there’s little to recommend it to anyone other than its target audience of young children.