Those who missed the theatrical release of Harriet The Spy last summer should think twice before rushing out to rent the newly released video. Despite the high hopes of fans of Louise Fitzhugh's engaging children's novel, the movie version of Harriet The Spy is a major disappointment, suggesting once again that Hollywood has little of value to say to people with childhoods.
First published in 1964, the book is a favorite of pre-teen girls drawing encouragement from the zany adventures of Harriet, an iconoclastic 11-year-old who lives as much in her imagination as she does on her block in New York City. Harriet's best friend is her journal; and through it she schemes, and snoops, and fantasizes, creating her own wacky little world. When that world occasionally bumps into reality, Harriet gets into BIG trouble. But nothing that can't be overcome by a little spunk and a lot of imagination.
Unfortunately, the movie doesn't let Harriet overcome anything. When her journal is discovered by schoolmates (who take offense at finding themselves the object of Harriet's private barbs), they declare war. The revenge that is portrayed is brutal and incessant; it left me squirming uncomfortably at the sight of kids being so mean to each other.
In one scene, a classroom full of vengeful kids pours paint on Harriet's head while a teacher blinks witlessly in the background. This and other unsettling scenes make lies of reasonable childhood assumptions: that friends and teachers can be counted on, that bad days always end, that parents have your best interests at heart.