It so happens that Kit Kittredge: An American Girl is based on stories invented to sell one of the plastic lasses in a very popular line of dolls typifying various eras in U.S. history. ''Kit'' is the enterprising girl-reporter-in-training poppet from 1934 Cincinnati who represents Depression-era America. So, yes, this movie is a slick marketing offshoot of an expensive toy. Ewww.
But Kit Kittredge is also a smart, playful, informative pleasure in its own right a gently thoughtful, audience-appropriate entertainment (directed by Mansfield Park's Patricia Rozema) that assembles swell actors to play colorful characters who don't shy away from depicting serious hard times. Little Miss Sunshine's redoubtable Abigail Breslin is swellest of all in the title role, believable (and admirable) as an unpretentious go-getter with an open mind; when not helping Mama (Julia Ormond) open their house to boarders, she investigates a local crime. Others in the nabe include Max Thieriot as a hunky young hobo, a perfectly cast Wallace Shawn as a newspaper editor, and, for screwball spin, Stanley Tucci and Joan Cusack as a traveling magician and a motoring librarian. The latter is, actually, hell on wheels. B+