Madeline (1998 film)

Madeline is a 1998 family comedy film adaptation of the children's book series and animated television series of the same name. The film starred newcomer Hatty Jones as the titular character with Frances McDormand and Nigel Hawthorne in supporting roles as Miss Clavel and Lord Covington respectively.[2] The film encompasses the plots of four Madeline books. It was released on July 10, 1998 by TriStar Pictures.[3]

Madeline movie poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byDaisy von Scherler Mayer
Screenplay byMark Levin
Jennifer Flackett
Story byMalia Scotch Marmo
Mark Levin
Jennifer Flackett
Based onMadeline
by Ludwig Bemelmans
Produced bySaul Cooper
Pancho Kohner
Allyn Stewart
CinematographyPierre Aïm
Edited byJeffrey Wolf
Music byMichel Legrand
Distributed byTriStar Pictures
Release date
  • July 10, 1998 (1998-07-10)
Running time
88 minutes [1]
United States
Box office$30 million[1]


In 1956 Paris, France, a young girl named Madeline attends a Catholic boarding school, taught by the strict but loving nun Miss Clavel and fed by the passionate French chef Hélène. Madeline is an orphan, coming from neither family nor money, but maintains a positive, mischievous attitude and is best friends with another girl, Aggie.

One night, Madeline is stricken with appendicitis and taken to the hospital, where she undergoes an appendectomy. During her stay there, Madeline meets and bonds with Lady Covington, the terminally ill wife of the school's board of trustees member, Lord Covington. Unlike her husband, Lady Covington cares deeply for the school and the girls, having attended herself in her youth. Lady Covington reveals she carved her birth name, Marie Gilbert, into one of the dorm's bed frames and asks Madeline to find out if her name is still there. A few days later, when Madeline leaves the hospital, she learns that Lady Covington has sadly passed away. True to her promise, she finds Lady Covington's name and adds her own.

Later, the Spanish ambassador purchases the property next door to the school and moves there with his family, including his spoiled son Pepito, who is around Madeline's age. While the other girls are smitten with Pepito, Madeline is irritated by the noise created by the boy riding around on his Vespa, calling him a "Bad Hat". Shortly after the ambassador's arrival, Lord Covington announces he plans on closing the school following his wife's demise and selling the building. Miss Clavel, unnerved by Pepito's bothering her girls, attempts to make peace with the boy by giving his tutor, Leopold, a tool box for him. However, her actions are unsuccessful as Pepito steals Madeline's drawing pad and vandalizes it during a field trip.

Pepito invites the girls to his birthday party, during which he unnerves them by showing a mouse and joking about killing it. Madeline, infuriated by Pepito's actions, gets into a physical fight with him and releases all of his mice, causing the guests to flee, Miss Clavel to faint and the girls' visit to be cut short. As punishment, Miss Clavel makes them write lines explaining their actions. While out on a daily walk, Madeline accidentally falls into the Seine while standing on the ledge of a bridge going over the river. She is rescued by a stray Labrador Retriever, whom she names Genevieve. Genevieve follows Madeline to the school and the girls convince Miss Clavel, who is allergic to dogs, to keep her.

Wanting to save the school from being shut down, Madeline enlists Pepito's help to sabotage Lord Covington's attempts to sell the property. During this time, the two become friends, but her efforts are ultimately discovered by Lord Covington, who initially blames Miss Clavel. Madeline tries to take responsibility for her involvement, though Lord Covington is unmoved by her apology or the motivation behind her actions. After leaving, he discovers Genevieve and turns her loose into the night, ignoring the pleas of the girls.

Upset over the loss of Genevieve, Miss Clavel takes the girls to a circus in hopes of cheering them up. Madeline, blaming herself for what happened and fearing she'll have no place to go as an orphan once the school closes, decides to join the circus, hoping to make friends and find a home within the community there. After confiding in Aggie of her plans and making her swear not to tell, Madeline leaves the group and unintentionally stumbles upon Leopold, with the help of a trio of clowns known as "The Idiots", kidnapping Pepito, hoping to ransom him. While trying to intervene, she is abducted as well. Aggie confesses to Miss Clavel that Madeline ran away while Pepito's parents discover he's missing.

Madeline and Pepito manage to break free of their bonds and find a motorcycle. Madeline uses her hair clip to start it and Pepito drives them away, using his experience with his Vespa. The two are pursued by Leopold and the Idiots but Miss Clavel, who is driving in search of Madeline (finding and picking up Genevieve along the way), is able to cause the Idiots to crash into a lake. The police eventually arrive and arrest the kidnappers, while Miss Clavel, Madeline, Pepito and Genevieve head back to the school.

Madeline reunites with Hélène and her classmates. Lord Covington arrives and shares that he's sold the property to the ambassador of Uzbekistan. Madeline realizes he wants to sell the school as it reminds him of his wife's demise. She empathizes with Lord Covington, sharing her experience of losing her own family and assuring him that Lady Covington is still with him and the school. Miss Clavel promises Madeline that they'll be together regardless of what happens. Lord Covington is moved by Madeline's words and sincerity, but regretfully tells her and the girls that there's nothing he can do as he's already sold the property. In a happy twist, the ambassador, also moved by Madeline, decides to back out of the sale and allow the girls to keep their school. The film then concludes with a montage of the girls and Miss Clavel attending a fair, accompanied by Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World", and changes back to the book setting as the word "Fin" appears.


  • Hatty Jones as Madeline
  • Kristian De La Osa as Pepito
  • Clare Thomas as Agatha "Aggie"
  • Bianca Strohmann as Victoria "Vicki"
  • Rachel Dennis as Lucinda
  • Eloise Eonnet as Sylvette
  • Morgane Farcat as Marie-Odile
  • Pilar Garrard as Beatrice
  • Emilie Jessula as Elizabeth
  • Alice Lavaud as Veronica
  • Christina Mangani as Chantal
  • Jessica Mason as Serena
  • Alix Ponchon as Lolo


Development and writingEdit

While largely based on the original series, with storylines from three of the picture books weaved into the plot, several liberties were taken with the characters' backstories. Notably, Madeline is depicted as an orphan in the film, while in the books, she receives a dollhouse from her father and is known not only to have both her parents but siblings as well.[4][5][6]

The film's costume department went for some artistic licence in developing the costumes for Madeline. Aside from moving the time period from the 1930s to 1950, the producers elected for saturated blues and reds in the students' uniforms while keeping them as believable as possible, ruling out the possibility of using grey as it was seen as depressing. Similar considerations were made for Frances McDormand's character, a novice nun who, according to research, would have worn a short black habit; a softer blue habit similar to the one worn by Miss Clavel in the books was used instead.[7]


Principal photography took place in Paris from September 1997 to January 1998, with English actress Hatty Jones, then 8 or 9 years, cast as the main character. Unlike the books, the film takes place in 1956, not 1939.[8] Many of the landmarks from the books appear in the film, although some were too crowded with modern traffic to be used.[9]

Release and receptionEdit

Home videoEdit

Madeline was released on VHS, part of the Columbia TriStar Family Collection series, and DVD on December 15, 1998.

Critical responseEdit

This film received mixed to positive reviews upon release. It currently has a 63% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 30 reviews, with an average score of 6.41/10. The site's consensus states: "It may be a tad tedious for older viewers, but Madeline's clever, adventurous heroine is likely to charm its intended audience."[10] On their TV show, Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert awarded the film with "Two Thumbs Up" (see photo of film). Nell Minow of Common Sense Media said that the movie was "great for young kids and fans of the books."[11] AOL movie critic Brandon Judell said of it, "No horribly arch double entendres to draw in audiences who can't spend two hours in a theater without having their libido massaged." Jeffery Huston called it "a disarming, charming fable so artfully crafted that adults will fall under its spell." Conversely, John R. McEwen gave a negative review, stating that the movie was: "...Adequately simple for children, though perhaps a bit pedestrian for adults." A similarly negative review was given by Michael O'Sullivan of The Washington Post, stating that "their 8-year-old daughters will less likely be impressed by the meandering story, dull visuals and flat characterizations."[12]


The film depicts many events from the books, but there are a number of discrepancies from both the books and TV series as follows:

  • Madeline is depicted as a redhead in the series, whereas in the film she has light brown/strawberry blonde hair.[12]
  • In the dining room where the breaking bread routine takes place, the girls are shown eating full dinners consisting of lamb and vegetables, but in the series, they are shown to eat croissants or bread rolls on a regular basis while breaking their bread.
  • There are also several name changes among the girls, with names sounding more British in origin, compared to more French in the TV series. They do not attempt French accents, unlike the TV series.
  • Lord Cucuface is renamed Lord Covington and his role is expanded. In the series, he appears to be merely a superintendent of sorts, while in the film, his grandmother-in-law opened the school and his late wife was a student and benefactress. Madeline still calls him Lord Cucuface both behind his back and on one occasion, directly to his face. He is not as naïve as he appears to be in the TV series either (example: believing that the girls could play instruments, but in reality they had only just recently discovered them in the attic).
  • Lord Covington is depicted as having a wife, but in the TV series, it is unclear if Lord Cucuface is married, divorced, a widower or a bachelor, let alone a father of children.
  • In the series, Lord Cucuface intended to sell the old house after it was deemed too old and too dangerous, although they soon had it repaired, whereas in the film, Lord Covington sells the old house after his wife's death.
  • In the movie, the girls and Pepito pull numerous pranks on the old house by unhinging doors, igniting firecrackers, leaving out stinky cheese and other things to dissuade Lord Covington from selling the school, but in the TV series, Lord Cucuface visited on a rainy day along with Madame Baguette and Madame Fromage; however, the old house was falling apart due to broken planks, a broken shutter, leaky roof, leaky taps and squeaky doors and after Madame Baguette had an accident when she slid down the banister and thus causing a large crash, Lord Cucuface announced that he was selling the old house because in his own words, it was "too old and too dangerous", despite the objections of the girls and Miss Clavel's suggestions of fixing it.
  • Pepito uses a guillotine to execute a mouse and proceeds to feed it to a snake for lunch, but in the TV series, he used the guillotine to decapitate poultry for eating in "Madeline and the Bad Hat".
  • Miss Clavel is portrayed as allergic to dogs, hence her sneezing, but in the TV series, she has nothing of the sort.
  • In the famous scene where Madeline accidentally falls into the Seine, she stands on the bridge to justify her actions towards Pepito at his birthday party to the girls when they are angry at her, but in "Madeline's Rescue", there was no animosity and in fact, she fell into the Seine out of careless tomfoolery.
  • The girls are portrayed as eating chicken and soon turning into vegetarians, but in the TV series, it was Pepito who ate chicken and subsequently became a vegetarian.
  • Pepito appears to be somewhat older than the girls and in place of a "hat" he drives a Vespa motorcycle. Unlike the TV series, where he reforms after one of his mischievous pranks goes wrong (involving a group of dogs and a cat), he appears to reform sometime during/after the scene where the girls pull various pranks at the old house. He also has a "tutor" in the film, who is absent in the series.
  • A lot of Pepito's mischief has been exaggerated, compared to the TV series. For instance, in the scene when the girls are in the kitchen and attempting to cook themselves, he wears a hideous red demon mask and frightens all of the girls, making some of them scream, but in "Madeline at Cooking School", he helped the girls to cook lunch for Lord Cucuface, because Mrs. Murphy, the usual cook/housekeeper, had fallen ill due to the flu.
  • Pepito frightened the girls in the form of a white ghost on a hot summer night when they were toasting marshmallows around a campfire in "Madeline and the Bad Hat".
  • In the scene of Pepito's birthday party, the girls' visit is cut short when Madeline releases the mice from a cage in Pepito's menagerie and everything erupts into chaos, including a physical fight between Madeline and Pepito, forcing Miss Clavel to make them leave without having any birthday cake and write out "I will control my temper" a number of times as punishment, but that never happened in the TV series at all: in the episode Madeline in London, Madeline, Miss Clavel and the girls visited Pepito in London after he had moved there with his parents and they celebrated his birthday in a celebratory way, had a large party consisting of a large cake and many treats and they gave him a retired horse as a birthday present, whom he named Piccadilly, perhaps after the London street of the same name.
  • In the film, Madeline is a lot more outgoing, confident and somewhat of a leader, compared to her slightly more demure character in the series. She is also given a different backstory, where she is made an orphan, while the original books and TV series provide her with parents, notably in the eponymous pilot episode and Madeline's Christmas.[4] The scene with the girls in the hospital room visiting Madeline makes this clear: in the book and aforementioned pilot episode, she has a dollhouse from "Papa", but in the film, Vicki explains that the toys are for "charity cases". Madeline: Lost in Paris re-establishes her as an orphan in the series.
  • Genevieve in the book/TV series is depicted as a chocolate-brown mongrel, while the film appears to have her as a Golden/Labrador Retriever mix with a whitish-blonde coloring.
  • While the TV series is somewhat unclear on whether Miss Clavel is a nun, nurse, boarding house "mother" or similar (she is neither called Sister nor Mother Clavel), the movie does make it quite clear that she is a nun. She also appears to have a soft spot for Madeline, treating her like her own daughter. Unlike her wholly optimistic TV counterpart, the film version does display signs of realism (and allows Madeline some leverage).
  • The cook is Mrs. Murphy in the series, but renamed Helene in the film.
  • The movie was banned in Russia until 2008 because Leopold, Pepito's tutor, was a Soviet Spy trying to kidnap Pepito to get money and to make Spain a Communist country.
  • The pilot episode of the TV series does not specify if or when Madeline was released from the hospital, but the movie depicts her as being released from the hospital and taken home to the vine-covered old house by Miss Clavel and Helene, just as the Spanish Ambassador moves in next door, an event that did not occur until "Madeline and the Bad Hat".
  • Dr. Cohn, the physician in the TV series, was replaced by a pair of orderlies and a stretcher to pick up Madeline when she had appendicitis.
  • When Miss Clavel and the girls go to the funfair, which ends with in a thunderstorm and thus forcing them to go back to the old house, Madeline runs away to join the circus, only to get kidnapped along with Pepito by two clowns and Leopold, but in the TV series, Madeline and Pepito were unintentionally left behind on the ferris wheel in the rain and they were well looked after by the gypsies and the circus performers.
  • Miss Clavel is more confident in driving a car, whereas in the episode Madeline and the Big Cheese, she is not a confident driver.
  • When the girls are visiting the famous Louvre, they are seen with sketch pads and Madeline retrieves her pad from Pepito, only to see hideous drawings and a threatening message "BEWARE!", but in the TV series, they visited the Louvre after Madeline had painted a picture of the old house and the workers at the gallery claimed it as their own after she accidentally left it behind - Pepito was not even present in that episode.
  • Detective Moreau was replaced by some policemen when they came to arrest Leopold and the other culprits who abducted Pepito and Madeline from the circus.
  • In the pilot, Miss Clavel did not ride in the ambulance that took Madeline to the hospital; instead, she stayed back with the remaining eleven girls.


  1. ^ a b Madeline at Box Office Mojo
  2. ^ Gritten, David (19 July 1998). "Only a Little Bit of Stage Fright". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 12 October 2015.
  3. ^ Mathews, Jack (10 July 1998). "Bringing 'Madeline' to Life in a Very by-the-Book Way - latimes". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 12 October 2015.
  4. ^ a b Conradt, Stacy (16 April 2010). "The Quick 10: Madeline". Mental Floss. Retrieved 12 October 2015.
  5. ^ Bemelmans, Ludwig (2000-05-01). Madeline. Perfection Learning Corporation. ISBN 9780812422542. Retrieved 2015-10-12. they walked and then said, "Ahh," when they saw the toys and candy and the dollhouse from Papa.
  6. ^ Bemelmans, Ludwig (2000-09-01). Madeline's Christmas. Puffin Books. ISBN 9780613300148. Retrieved 2015-10-12.
  7. ^ Goodwin, Betty. "'Madeline's' Little Leaps of Faith". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 12 October 2015.
  8. ^ "Madeline movie site". Archived from the original on August 16, 2002. Retrieved 2017-05-29.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  9. ^ Hoheandel, Kristin (18 January 1998). "FILM; 'In an Old House In Paris . . . .'". The New York Times. Retrieved 12 October 2015.
  10. ^ "Madeline (1998) - Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 26 July 2019.
  11. ^ Minow, Nell. "Madeline Movie Review". Common Sense Media. Retrieved 12 October 2015.
  12. ^ a b O'Sullivan, Michael (10 July 1998). "A 'Madeline' Best Forgotten". The Washington Post. Retrieved 12 October 2015.

External linksEdit