Our rating: 5 out of 5
As the film opens, we view a beautiful mountain scene that soon turns to tragedy. John and Adelaide flee in anger from John's father and are crushed beneath a tree that falls in a storm. The only survivor is their baby girl, Heidi, who the Grandfather turns away from. Eight years go by, and we see she has been raised by her cousin Dete, who has just accepted a position of importance in Frankfurt. However, the position does not allow children, and therefore Heidi is to live with her Grandfather (Jason Robarts). A bit apprehensive, Heidi and Dete set off for the mountains. Upon arrival, Dete is thrown out of the house, but leaves Heidi (Tholey Norton) behind.
The little girl is somewhat put off at first by her Grandfather's gruff tones, but soon comes to find that he's not really as bad as he seems. She also makes a friend in Peter, the goat heard, and the twosome spend many hours in the high meadows. Heidi also befriends Peter's Grandmother, a blind woman who finds the child's company like a tonic. Over an argument that ends in a shy apology from Heidi, the Grandfather at last accepts her, and they slowly learn to get along. A few months pass and soon they are inseparable... but then the unthinkable happens. Dete returns, this time saying she can take Heidi off Grandfather's hands, for she has become aware that a wealthy family in Frankfurt has need of a companion for a girl by the name of Klara.
The Grandfather adamantly refuses, but Dete at least convinces him that unless he allows Heidi to leave, she'll hate him for it and run away just like his son did. So he angrily tells her to go and never return. Heidi, of course, refuses to leave, but Dete wins her over saying that she can come back in a week if she's not happy. It's a lie of course, one that Heidi only discovers when she is left with Klara and her uppity governess, Fräulein Rottenmeier (Jane Seymour). Heidi discovers that Klara has suffered from an illness and will never walk again, and also from regular attacks of asthma brought on by worry or stress. Fräulein Rottenmeier takes an instant dislike to the child, and takes every opportunity to point out how illiterate she is, though Heidi does find another friend in Sebastian, the valet.
Frau Sesemann, Klara's grandmother, arrives for a visit, and things rapidly begin to change. She helps Heidi learn to read, to the astonishment of Frau Sesemann and the tutor, Herr Kandidat, but soon Heidi is flocked with horrible nightmares that give her the impression that things are not well back in the mountains. Klara's father returns, and soon thereafter the Sesemann mansion is the victim of strange nightly visitors. Every night the doors are locked and bolted, only to be found the next morning... unlatched and open. Nothing has been stolen, and the servants, including Fräulein Rottenmeier, believe it to be ghosts.
This is one film that everyone seems to love, and it's one of my favorites. Though they make some major changes to the story, it's still perfectly lined, thought out, and entertaining. The acting is magnificent, especially from newcomer Noley Thornton and Jane Seymour, who seems to shine in any role handed to her. Heidi is a story that'll leave you feeling good, filled with humor, drama, danger, and love. There's nothing more objectionable than a single inappropriate use of "God" by Dete, and for three hours of family viewing, that's pretty good.