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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
Harriet M. Welsch (Michelle Trachtenberg) is an 11-year-old-spy who dreams of being a writer. She explains her obsession with writing by saying: "I want to remember everything, I want to know everything."

In her PRIVATE notebook, she writes down her secret thoughts. Sometimes her comments are all too honest and not that nice. Harriet doesn't yet understand the power of words, but soon she learns, when all her friends become her worst enemies.

Rosie O'Donnell plays the perfect nanny. Her advice to Harriet is that while she might want to know everything, it won't do her a bit of good unless she uses her knowledge to put beauty into the world.

Harriet goes through a great learning experience where she finally realizes she should participate more in life and learns to let go of her writing obsession in order to embrace life. After all, true friends are what makes life wonderful and worth living.

This is a funky, modern story that teaches a wonderful lesson. It is about learning to forgive and being vulnerable enough to be able to say you are sorry.

A great lesson for all ages!

~The Rebecca Review
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on January 8, 2006
After reading some of the negative reviews about this movie, I am inspired to write my views!

I saw Harriet the Spy when it came out in theaters in 1996. I was 16 then, and I had read the book a few times. Quite frankly, I didn't like the book that much. I thought it ended badly and Harriet was a bit too mean in the book. But when I saw the movie, I fell in love with Harriet as played by Michelle Trachtenberg. She was positively wonderful in the role, and made Harriet likable and believable.

Harriet learns some important lessons about friendship and the power of words. She also learns to deal with growing up and living with parents who love her but are often absent. I think many kids can relate to this movie. Harriet's classmates are real kids and we see Harriet having to decide whether to cater to the popular kids or stay true to herself. We also see her take responsibility for her actions and win back her true friends.

I think Harriet is a positive role model in many instances. Of course, some could take issue with her spying on people, but she usually does not do so in an illegal manner! After all, this isn't a totally real story! The only thing I didn't like about the movie is when Harriet's nanny tells her she has to lie in order to win back her friends. Because really, she does not, she simply has to not be so harsh with the truth. But this is a minor point.

The music in this movie is great, and I have tried for years to find a soundtrack without success. If anyone knows where the soundtrack is, please let me know!

I also loved the scenes where Harriet does some crazy and fun things like going with her friends to the lady's garden made out of found objects, or fencing with Golly's boyfriend at the movie theater. Harriet and Golly's relationship is beautifully portrayed. It made me want my own lovable nanny!

At any rate, sorry for the long review, but I think this movie is fun and great and I highly recommend it for kids ages 9-13 or so. Parents should watch with the kids and discuss any issues as they see fit!
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on January 2, 2004
Harriet the Spy is a wonderfully textured little movie, displaying a welcome amount of emotional depth. Though made for children, its virtues transcend age groups - it deftly touches on some very relatable and universal themes. And unlike other children's fare, it dares to venture into some rather somber and affecting territory.
In the title role of Harriet, Michelle Trachtenberg is a delight. She infuses the role with a wide and impressive range of emotion and displays remarkable talent for her age. The character of Harriet is realistically and refreshingly portrayed - like any 11 year-old she has a wealth of charms as well as her share of foibles. Somewhat of an outsider, Harriet turns inward when trouble ensues - due to her self-imposed isolationism, Harriet has a hard time when she falls out of favor with her friends. She makes mistakes along the way - but ultimately, she overcomes her flaws, reaches out to her friends, and takes a more active role in the world. Seeing this honest portrayal of an 11 year-old makes for a rather satisfying journey.
Young Michelle Trachtenberg deftly captures a sense of innocence, curiosity, and angst. Her performance often tugs at the heartstrings due to its subtle delivery. She very much captures a sense of wide-eyed adorability - yet she's often quite haunting when serving as the film's narrator. In the role of Ole Golly, Rosie O'Donnell puts in a decent, if understated performance. And the actors playing Harriet's friends do a nice job of portraying the camaraderie between the three.
Visually, the film is shot in bright colors and an eclectic style. Yet for all the cheery stylistic content, the film touches on some fairly serious emotional territory. True to real life, when the children turn on Harriet they become quite cruel and antagonistic. Through Harriet's alienation, the mood is quite morose and affecting - once again, Trachtenberg shines in her portrayal of a hurt, confused, and isolated young girl.
The director nicely contrasts innocent childlike elements with a darker undercurrent... like a scene of a child's flipbook that spells out the words `Everybody hates me'. Or a shot of lonely friendless Harriet washing up in the bathroom, while a sing-song chant of friendship ironically echoes in the background. There's a nice juxtaposition between the dearly childish and the darkly mature.
Yet the darkness serves a purpose - for when the positive themes arise, they shine all the more authentically. After all, the value of friendship seems much more potent after viewing the angst and pain of Harriet's friendless life. Ultimately, the movie ends on a rather charming and positive note - Harriet learns, and grows, and finds her happiness.
Ultimately, Harriet the Spy is a worthwhile little movie. The performances are solid, and there's a strong emotional core. Unlike other children's movies, Harriet the Spy doesn't beat you over the head with its messages. Instead, it subtly touches upon the importance of tolerance, friendship, honesty, and balance. It's a thoughtful and charming look into the world of a child.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on October 13, 2000
I really loved this movie. Michelle Trachtenberg is absolutely brilliant. I saw her in this and thought, wow, she's going to be huge. What do you know, now she's in Buffy. Michelle's wonderful as Harriet, the girl who wants to be a writer and writes down things about the others in her class in her journal. Then the journal is found, and she has to deal with the rest of her class not being too happy at the uncomplimentary things she's jotted down about them. Rosie O'Donnell is also excellent as the nanny. (Don't ask me who else starred in this, I can't remember!) :)
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on January 12, 2008
I first read HARRIET THE SPY in a Children's Literature course in college. I had been vaguely aware of the title for a while, but I don't think it ever would have occurred to me to read it. But I found it surprisingly good, with a fair amount of honest insight into childhood relationships, what it means to be a bit different, and some truths about growing up in an urban environment that made it a compelling read. I started recommending to other adult readers--especially those who (unlike me) had grown up in New York.

I seldom expect adult-level movies to be as good or better than the book, so I wasn't too surprised to find that the 1996 film version was, in many respects, lacking. This visually hyped-up version (you can tell this is a post-MTV product)is actually jarring. at times. And it drops(or virtually reduces to nothing) the book's many subplots. And would it have been SO terrible to actually set the film in the early 1960s, the era of the original's action? Of course, plots for "grown up" movies get updated too, and sometimes it works. But usually it's just an attempt to appeal to the "contemporary" audience and often violates the spirit of the original.

The notion that kids can't identify with children from other times and places is a pretty condescending one. And speaking of places, there seems to be little attemptin this film to capture any of the flavor of life in New York (in any era). Sure there are immigrant families, some urban eccentrics, and in fact, the film is much more racially and ethnically diverse than the novel But it could be Any City, USA. And while the notion of "spying" has a certain attraction for kids of any era, it had a special resonance in the Cold War years that would have been nice to see captured in the film somehow.

Having said all that, I would have to admit that--as some other reviewers mention--that this film will likely appeal to its target audience, contemporary pre-adolescents. A film doesn't have to be "truly great" to be entertaining, and that's true for any age level. And kids generally like to see their issues and concerns dramatized. The film makes its points about kindness and consideration vs. honesty and frankness well enough. In that sense, it really is good "family viewing," in that it can get parents and kids to discuss matters that concern almost any 11-year old.

But that's true of almost any "After School Special" or "very special episodes" of a given TV series. What really makes for great family viewing in my book is a film that is well scripted, acted and produced. It can be entertaining for kids AND adults. In fact, it should be as entertaining for adults who originally saw the film as kids. That's probably the ultimate test. Would a young adult of, say, 23 or 24 who saw this film when it was released 12 years ago, still enjoy it--or more than just a nostalgic level? I could be wrong, but I think any number of such viewers would come away from a viewing of this film today at least a LITTLE disappointed.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on March 28, 2002
Based upon an excellent children's novel by the late Louise Fitzhugh, this film succeeds in delivering all the charm, warmth, and humor of the original story. The combination of excellent screenplay, superb direction, and the typically outstanding Nickelodeon production values make this a must-see for everyone. The viewer's enjoyment is enhanced by the highly talented cast. Michelle Trachtenberg is a marvelous actress who displays both charm and wit in portraying the title character. Of course, another major strength of this wonderful film is the very welcome presence of the wonderful Rosie O'Donnell. With her rare combination of beauty, refinement, and pure talent, she is a charming addition to an already-strong cast. This movie is very highly recommended for everyone.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on October 4, 2001
Well, first of all I have to say this is my favorite movie, and probably always will be. This is strange, according to everyone at my school, because I am a High School Freshman and this is a kid's movie. Oh, well. But, why? Because this movie is very much like my own life. Although I don't have a spy route and despise tomatoes with a passion, I have always related to Harriet. It's been my goal as long as I can remember to be a writer. So, of course I instantly bonded with Harriet from the moment she declared herself one. I even had a journal like hers already! (Hey, I was about ten, I thought this was more than coicidence.) And I never was "one of the crowd", and never will be. So I love Harriet, and her friends. Janie was eccentric but fun, so I liked her, and I was poor like Sport, my aunt was like Golly. My parents a bit like Harriet's...and these still hold true today. This movie holds a special message for me: You will survive. You can make it, and enjoy yourself along the way. And that's why I love it.
It's a special movie that you can watch and always love. This is one.
As for the whole book vs. movie thing: I haven't read the book (haven't been able to get my hands on it), but from reviews I've seen, and just reading about it, I think I like the 90s version a little better -- just because I relate to it more, that's all.
And so, I depart.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Wow some people take children's movies too seriously. I own Harriet the spy and i still love it the same since it came out and i think it is a Nick classic. If you think about it its a shame the new generation of kids have to grow up without movies like this. Harriet the spy does have a few things in it that seem like its not for children but if you pay attention and watch it to the end it also teaches you to appreciate what you have and plenty of other good morals. The movie description is a bit simple and complicated at the same time Its about an 11 yr old that wants to be a writer but her spying is her writing actually its more like shes exploring and writing everything she sees. You cant just read reviews about the movie you have to see it cause some of the reviews dont do this great movie any justice. The acting is great and the story line is very original and thought provoking. If your a parent and you would like to know if this is a good movie for your kids well im tellin you it is. I was 8 when it came out and it has made me look at some things differently. This is a great movie and you shouldn't let your kids miss this and this definitely will teach children to appreciate good friends and more important good parents. I'm sorry if this review doesn't help or give a good movie description but this is a very underrated movie that will leave a good impression on kids not a bad one.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on February 11, 2001
I've read some of the reviews and think some people didn't even watch it. I mean, they probably heard about from somebody who hates Nickelodeon. I've been watching nickelodeon for 13 years(or my whole life) and it is a great channel. Now about the movie, it is about a girl named Harriet who is 12 years old and is in sixth grade,and loves to write and likes to spy (in a good way) she has a nanny named Golly (Rosie O'Donnel) her parents are not like the ones on full house who hug all the time but there the average 90's parents. She has two best friends named Sport and Janey,(sport is a comedian, and Janey is a Scientist ) The best part is when they start school and Harriet rates all the students. This is a movie for kids and adults, it will make you laugh, it will make you cry, and it will also make you want to watch it again and again.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on November 17, 1999
Interesting to see such polarized reviews. Personally, I really liked the movie. Maybe the book was better -- I don't know, I didn't read it. But judged on its own merits, the movie is very successful. Good music, good acting from the kids -- what more could you want?
The story? It may be a little whimsical, but it pulled me in anyway. I definitely felt for Harriet when her class turned against her, and I thought Michelle Trachtenberg played the part very well. Rosie O'Donnell has all the passion of a fence post, but hey, that's Rosie O'Donnell. It works OK.
I recommend this movie for kids and adults of all ages. Seriously.
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