Like with my review of The NeverEnding Story (1984), a little extra research turns up surprising facts about a film like The New Adventures of Pippi Longstocking (1988). The first thing I had to do was to figure out which version my sister meant for me to view of one of our childhood favorites. After all, I had not seen the movie in thirty years, partly because at one point in the third or fourth grade I copied over our VHS recording of the movie with some nature program about frogs. My sister was not pleased, particularly when she tried to show the movie to her own class and instead of the famous redhead with upturned pigtails they got croaking amphibians. Because it had been so long, and a simple Google search reveals several iterations of the Swedish (who knew?) story, I had to do a little digging. It did not take long. The unmistakable adolescent face of Tami Erin who plays the title character was easy to spot and quickly jogged my memory. Fun fact: she was born in Wheaton, Illinois, a mere six years before myself and probably in the same hospital. I would not be surprised if somebody in my family knew her family. Wheaton, or Winfield (where I am from and the next town over), were not very big in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Not so fun fact: the actual movie.
Shortly after The New Adventures of Pippi Longstocking began I came to realization that probably did not bother me as much when I was eight: this is a musical. As it turns out, it is not a full on musical, but there are enough song breaks of a strange variety to make that aspect slightly irritating. We first see Pippi on the Hoptoad, her father, Captain Efraim Longstocking’s (John Schuck), boat, singing away and performing all sorts of impossible feats with her apparent mutant abilities. She has superhuman strength, speed, and she can virtually fly. None of this, though, is able to save her from being separated from her father when a storm comes up and tosses them overboard. Somehow she makes it to shore where her father owns a home called the Villa Villekula. So now an eleven year old girl is supposed to live on her own while dad is . . . somewhere. “Luckily” there are neighbors, specifically a boy and a girl of roughly her same age, Tommy (David Seaman) and Annika Settigren (Cory Crow), and they become fast friends. Then again, who would not want to get to know a seemingly magical person who owns a talking horse and a monkey, has nothing but time and money, and does virtually whatever she pleases. Mr. Settigren (Dennis Dugan) is initially none too pleased with the sudden wild behavior of his children. I cannot blame him. The next day after Pippi’s arrival, she causes a mess in the middle of town by tossing ice cream at a group of orphan children. Mrs. Settigren (Dianne Hull) is more forgiving. I guess she values happiness over discipline. At any rate, Pippi’s arrival causes a stir because of her behavior, and soon the powers-that-be decide that she must be dealt with, particularly after she runs away with the Settigren kids. Thus Pippi is put into the town orphanage. Yet they let her go home because she rescues two of the orphans from a fire that breaks out in their dormitory. There is a great deal that is strange about this scene, but I will discuss that later. Anyway, they let this eleven year old terror carry on living by herself because she is “special.” They do this even after dad shows up after months and tries to take her away to be the princess of an island where he has apparently been living as a king all this time. Instead, Pippi decides to forsake her royal heritage and stay, much to the chagrin of the local townspeople I am sure.
Okay, the orphanage fire in The New Adventures of Pippi Longstocking. This scene is emblematic of everything wrong with this film, and I suspect it helps explain why it was a flop (even in Sweden, apparently). Pippi resolves to escape one night. In wandering around, she stumbles into the attic where she encounters Greg the Glue Man (Dick Van Patten). He looks like a homeless man but claims to be the inventor of an adhesive that allows one to walk up walls. You just have to think about when it should be sticky and not sticky. Setting aside the notion that there is a terrifying man hanging out in the attic of an orphanage, he nonetheless helps Pippi escape. She comes back, though, when the fire starts to spread. As I mentioned, Pippi saves two of the children from the blaze, and they needed to be helped because they had fled up to the attic. Now, why could not Greg the Glue Man with his wonder product climb down as Pippi did, I do not know. Instead, he jumps out the window and is caught by the firefighters, leaving the two crying kids behind. Then, again inexplicably, the professionals leave it to a child to cross a rope Pippi slung from a telephone pole to the building, high-wire style, and carry the other children back across it. Huh? There is silly. And then there is absurd. Most of what happens in this movie falls in the latter category. Although, when you are eight, all you really care about is their fun adventures.
I have noted in other reviews, and it is worth mentioning here with The New Adventures of Pippi Longstocking, that Jesus told his disciples that the Kingdom of God is for the childlike. While Pippi does many adult things like maintaining her own house, cooking, and dealing with strangers, she does so with an innocence born not just of her age but the fact that she lacked experience with the culture in which she now lived. Hence she is exceedingly grateful when people do things for her, such as when she is invited to the Settigren’s home for dinner. Her youthful exuberance always shines through when telling the tales of her various travels with her father on the Seven Seas. And she is not burdened with all the cares that typically come with a lifetime of mundane routine. Rather, she wonders at the things that many adults find important. To be clear, Jesus’ words about the Kingdom were not an invitation to be irresponsible, but an invitation to fix on what is important. The youthful heart turns to God and nothing else matters as much. Pippi simply wanted to bring happiness into the lives of those around her, even those who seemingly meant her harm.
That is about the nicest thing one can say about The New Adventures of Pippi Longstocking. Aside from all the ridiculousness, it has the feel of a film shot about two decades earlier. Also, there were these strange computer sounds every time Pippi performed one of her impossible feats. The point is: they could have done better in 1988, though maybe they did not have the budget? Maybe all the money went to Dick Van Patten? Still, it was nice to see it shot in Florida, and given what I learned about where Tami Erin is from, watching this film as an adult was truly two worlds colliding. It is also a fine movie for the whole family, though I hope it does not inspire your children to behave as Pippi did.