This isn't the first version of Heidi and despite being released in 2004, it's not even the latest as another telling of the story has gone into production this year. Just what is it about Heidi that draws filmmakers back to the story? In 1937, it was as a starring vehicle for Shirley Temple, whose curls and cute smile were perfect for the wholesome little Swiss girl. During the eighties, it was a seemingly never ending European production that served the BBC's need to enlighten and educate as well as entertain and felt suitably worthy in between the imported cartoons and the teenage drug dealing in Grange Hill.
And this version? Well, Heidi is, above all else, a charming story about one young girl who brings out the very best in people despite the terrible things that happen to her. Indeed, the film begins with one such event as Heidi's aunt Dete plans to move to Frankfurt on her own, leaving Heidi with her grandfather, who lives high up in the Swiss mountains. As Dete explains, she has been looking after Heidi all her life and demands a break but, as we find out, Heidi's presence in her life suits Dete when there's something in it for her. But for now, she walks Heidi up the Swiss mountains and unceremoniously dumps the girl with her grandfather who could not be any less welcoming if he tried.
Slowly but surely, Heidi's companionship causes her grandfather's heart to melt and as she strikes up a friendship with Peter and his grandmother, she feels happier than ever. Dete has, however, a plan for Heidi having found a man whose daughter, Klara, needs a companion and who is willing to pay. When Heidi's grandfather is out, Dete drags the girl off to Frankfurt barely able to say goodbye to her grandfather and Peter where, despite forming a friendship with Klara, she mourns the loss of the mountains and yearns to return.
Written by Johanna Spyri, Heidi sits easily alongside both Eleanor H. Porter's Pollyanna and Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden by being not only a piece of classic children's literature but also in showing how a young girl can enrich the lives of those around her. In Pollyanna, a girl who sees no ill in anyone, has a community rally around her when she falls ill whilst in The Secret Garden, probably the closest of the two to Heidi, Mary Lennox goes to live in the chilling house of her uncle where she strikes up a friendship with Dickon, finds a secret garden and uses it to bring life back into both the mansion as well as her cousin Colin. Like Klara in Heidi, Colin is a victim of what his doctor's call a weak constitution and his health is restored by the secret garden as Klara's is by a visit to the mountains with Heidi. All three stories have been adapted for the screen numerous times with the most famous version of Pollyanna starring Hayley Mills whilst Agnieszka Holland's version of The Secret Garden is a fantastic children's film that's equally as entertaining for adults.
This version of Heidi is by no means the best but the greatest accomplishment of the makers of this film is that they have made a film as charming as the original story. This is an uncomplicated film and, as such, allows the strengths of Spyri's book to shine. Whether it was forced upon them through budgetary controls or it was their own choice, by stripping the story back to its very basics, it allows even very young children to appreciate the effect that Heidi has on the lives of, first, her grandfather and then Klara. Those that are mistrustful of Heidi's good intentions - her aunt Dete and Klara's guardian, Fraulein Rottenmeier - remain so throughout. The film even breaks events down by season so that Heidi arrives in the summer, first realises that her grandfather loves her in the winter and is taken to Frankfurt in the drizzling rain of late-winter/early-spring. As Heidi and Klara bond, spring is turning to summer and the film resolves itself with Heidi, Peter and Klara back on the mountains in the heat of summer once again. It's thoroughly uncomplicated fare but that is its appeal. Whilst possibly too simple a telling of the story for older children - any child older than eight or nine won't really have much of an interest in it - the darkness of The Secret Garden exists for when the sweetness of Heidi becomes a little too cloying.
Although the animation is more basic than that of the Disney blockbusters, it's been nicely transferred with the rich colours appearing bright and with only a little noise. The simple design and colour scheme - all of the characters appear in the same outfits throughout the film - help this no end but it's still a fine looking transfer.
Despite the credits finishing with a Dolby Digital logo, this has only been transferred with a stereo soundtrack but it's fine. There are, however, no subtitles, which is a shame as one likes to think of children's films on DVD setting an example for how the next generation or two will look
Storyboard To Screen (4m59s): Two sequences are included in this multi-angle comparison - the opening scenes and Magic In The Mountains, which is where Heidi's grandfather begins to care for the young girl. The sound is out of synch on the storyboard selection but comes
Trailer (1m05s): A series of highlights from the film were used as the promotional campaign during Heidi's run in the cinema.
Picture Gallery (1m43s): Twenty-four images from both the film and promotional literature are included on this, which does not allow the viewer to scroll backwards and forwards with the use of Next/Previous Chapter controls.
Regular readers will know that I tend to look towards my children's reactions to films such as this and I'm happy to say that one loved it. Heidi does tend to divide along the lines of the sexes - I don't think boys will be as interested as much as girls but that's hardly much of a criticism. The DVD isn't at all bad and the transfer is good, leaving this as a nice film and perfect for those parents who're concerned that too much onscreen action needs to be balanced by a sweeter tale.