In a bid to find a kid’s movie that didn’t totally stink, I found myself watching Eloise at the Plaza (2003) on telly yesterday… and I have to admit that the darn thing actually set me sniffling several times!
For those who don’t know, this Disney TV-movie is based on a popular series of American children’s books, about an “irrepressible” six-year-old girl who lives in the penthouse of the Plaza Hotel in New York City, along with her doting guardian ‘Nanny’, a pug named ‘Weenie’ and a turtle named ‘Skipperdee’. To entertain herself, she spends her mornings tagging the lobby with her name, running down the halls knocking on random doors, and exercising in the elevators… then in the afternoon, she alternately ignores and tortures her tutor with deliberately poor French pronunciation… all the while plotting to gatecrash an upcoming Debutante Ball, with a visiting Prince as her escort.
Now, Eloise could have been a serious pain to spend time with, if Sofia Vassilieva hadn’t infused the character with so much charm, even when she’s acting out atrociously… and as the story unfurls, we discover that the little vandal actually has a surprisingly compassionate and sensitive streak, as she plots to heal the broken hearts and lonely souls around her, like a pint-sized Amélie. It also helps that some of the mishaps that plague the hotel staff are the result of their own negligence, rather than Eloise’s direct interference. She has an uncanny knack for being around when things go wrong, and causes far more trouble than a good girl should, but it’s to the movie’s credit that she isn’t the sole source of chaos… even if she is constantly used as a convenient scapegoat by the hotel’s manager, ‘Mr. Salomone’ (Jeffrey Tambor).
I wasn’t exactly loving the accent that Julie Andrews affected as Nanny (was she supposed to be a cockerney?), but she could probably play this sort of role in her sleep by now, and she does have a very comforting presence. Eve Crawford is suitably snippy as ‘Mrs. Daniels’, the domineering Ball organiser, and Stephanie Anne Mills is suitably bright and charming as her submissive daughter, ‘Molly’ (who takes a shine to Eloise’s equally-geeky tutor). I was looking forward to seeing Christine Baranski’s turn as the hotel’s events co-ordinator, ‘Prunella Stickler’, but (SPOILER?) she doesn’t arrive until three minutes from the end! She still managed to wring a couple of solid laughs out of her scant screentime though… what a pro!
Overall it’s quite a silly movie, but the simple plot hangs together pretty well, and there’s an endearingly sweet, soppy heart underneath all the surface noise. I’d still be a little worried about letting my (hypothetical) kids watch it though, for fear of them mimicking the lead character’s behaviour too closely. Wall’s aren’t for writing on, dammit!