The Air of Disillusionment

Last night, I found a film on Netflix that I haven’t watched in years. My find was the movie adaptation of Harriet the Spy (don’t even try to talk to me about the Disney Channel modernized version), originally written as a book by Louise Fitzhugh. Having loved both the book and the film as a kid, I was eager to revisit my childhood and watch the film again. But I finished this viewing feeling slightly…betrayed.

This 1996 film was produced under Nickelodeon Movies, serving as the first movie for the production company. Starring Michelle Trachtenberg (now known for her roles in Gossip Girl and Ice Princess) as the admirable Harriet the Spy, the film portrays a writer’s ultimate nightmare – her personal diary is found by her classmates and read aloud, and the repercussions lead to a series of hi-jinks and middle school drama. The supporting cast includes Rosie O’Donnell as Harriet’s nanny and Vanessa Lee Chester (A Little Princess, The Lost World: Jurassic Park) and Gregory Smith (Rookie Blue) as her best friends.

Now, as a kid, this movie displayed what I believed was the dream lifestyle. Harriet seemed to have it all – a cool babysitter that brought her to eccentric places and quoted Lewis Carroll, the ability to roam free in her urban neighborhood and observe its peculiar residents, great friends who accepted her own quirkiness, and an endless amount of adventures. What happens to her after her journal is found appeared as only a bump in the road to me at age ten.

However, while watching Harriet the Spy as an almost nineteen-year old, I was appalled at how unrealistic some scenarios were. Harriet’s classmates – and friends! – are horrid to her after they read the vindictive things she wrote about them. Of course, Harriet needed to learn to keep her nose out of other people’s business and understand the severity of certain comments – and this is the lesson she ultimately learns by the film’s conclusion. But some of the antics these kids pull on her can easily be used as examples about why there is such an emphasis on anti-bullying today. This scene alone made me cringe by showing such a clueless teacher and bullying at the worst it could probably get in 1996.

Now don’t get me wrong – Harriet acted just as bad later on in the film. After the paint incident seen in that clip, she seeks revenge on her classmates. Her acts of vengeance include blackmailing her best friend and telling her greatest enemy that her father doesn’t love her – in front of other girls! It is then no wonder that Harriet’s parents send her to be evaluated by a psychologist. Like her classmates, she shows extreme behavior that’s pretty emotionally abusive.

I have to say that the kids’ behavior in Harriet the Spy really turned me off. While Harriet’s earlier character charmed me, it only became painful to watch her and her peers resort to being bullies. Their harsh actions never stuck with me as a kid, but seeing this film now truly shocked me.

Have you ever rewatched a childhood film to find something you didn’t remember or catch on to?  

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