Stars: Winona Ryder, Trini Alvarado, Claire Danes, Samantha Mathis, Kirsten Dunst, Christian Bale, Gabriel Byrne, Susan Sarandon, Eric Stoltz, John Neville, Mary Wickes. Written by Robin Swicord. Directed by Gillian Armstrong. Rated PG.

Based on the novel of the same name by author Louisa May Alcott, "Little Women" tells the story of a family of girls growing up in the 19th century who must fend for themselves while their father is away at war. The mother and four daughters are a bit on the poor side, but the dreams and ideas they possess are as big as those of anyone else. It's refreshing to find a film that promotes family values, tugs gently at the heartstrings, and is entertaining to boot.

Meg (Trini Alvarado), the oldest of the March girls, is at that age where a young lady is expected to find a young man suitable for marriage. She attends society dances in whatever outfit the family can scrape together in the hope that she will be able to attract such a man. Josephine (Winona Ryder), is an aspiring writer and the main focus of the movie. She enjoys spending time with Laurie (Christian Bale), a neighbor boy whom the March girls regard as a brother. Next comes the kind- hearted Beth (Claire Danes) whose good deeds inadvertently cause her to contract a life-threatening disease. Finally, there's young Amy March (Kirsten Dunst) who views the world through a romantic's eyes. Heading the family is the independent Mrs. March (Susan Sarandon), who has high hopes for what her daughters can achieve.

Other major characters include Gabriel Byrne as Josephine's mentor and soul-mate, John Neville as a kindly neighbor, Mary Wickes as the dreaded Aunt March, and Eric Stoltz as Meg's chosen suitor. It is virtually impossible to find fault with any in the cast; each gives an warm, earnest performance. Samantha Mathis, who plays Amy as an older girl, doesn't quite have the appeal of her younger counterpart, though.

Featuring sterling production values and deft direction on the part of Gillian Armstrong, "Little Women" is a modern-day classic, sure to be as treasured as its source material. My recommendation would be to make seeing the film a family experience.

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