In an old house in Paris that was covered in vines lived twelve little girls in two straight lines. In two straight lines they broke their bread and brushed their teeth and went to bed. They smiled at the good and frowned at the bad and sometimes they were very sad. They left the house at half past nine in two straight lines in rain or shine — the smallest one was Madeline.
In 1956 Paris, France, a young girl named Madeline attends a boarding school run by Miss Clavel, a no-nonsense nun. She is the only orphan and wishes she had a family since her parents have died. She goes on daily walks, eats her favorite meal "Chicken Hélène" (named after the cook, Hélène, who makes it), and causes mischief for Miss Clavel. One night, Miss Clavel feels that something is not right, so she runs up to the girls' room and finds Madeline groaning in pain on her bed. Quickly, Miss Clavel dials the hospital, who explains to Miss Clavel that they must take out Madeline's appendix immediately. During her stay in the hospital overnight, after the surgery, Madeline wanders down the hallways, and finds Lady Covington. The two begin to talk, and Lady Covington reveals to Madeline that she carved her name under Madeline's bed, Marie-Gilberte. She asks Madeline to see if it's still there. Their conversation is interrupted by the strict Lord Covington, who orders Madeline to leave. A few days later, when Madeline is ready to go, she discovers that Lady Covington had died. She then sees a chicken in Hélène's car, and finds out that it's the Chicken Hélène that will be served that night.
When Madeline arrives at the school, she meets Pepito, the Spanish Ambassador's son, who is the main target of an evil kidnapper named Leopold who wants to collect money from the Ambassador since he's rich. That night, Madeline refuses to eat the chicken "Fred" because she made friends with him in the car. She turns half the other girls against chicken and make them vegetarians and cluck, which results in Miss Clavel sending the girls up to bed without dinner, after a discussion with Covington about how he's closing the school down as he has resigned from his job due to his wife's death. The girls are hungry so they sneak down to eat. However, they get scared by Pepito, who appears dressed like a demon. When Miss Clavel and Hélène find the girls, they reluctantly decide to give them dinner. The next day, Miss Clavel goes to Pepito's house to offer him a toolbox and ends up talking with Leopold who is posing as Pepito's tutor. Then, Miss Clavel takes the girls to an art gallery where Pepito himself steals Madeline's notebook and writes "Beware" in it. The girls wonder why until Miss Clavel tells them that they have been invited to Pepito's birthday. While there, Pepito shows the girls his menagerie and attempts to scare them by dangling a white baby mouse in their face. It works on the other girls, but not on Madeline. Pepito tries to scare her by almost feeding it to his snake but Madeline insists he's bluffing. Pepito calls it off and shows the girls his guillotine that he built with the tools in his new toolbox and almost executes the mouse. Madeline defends the mouse by pushing Pepito away. She lets the remaining caged mice go in retaliation, and this causes the girls to run in horror and subsequently causes Miss Clavel to faint. Madeline starts to fight Pepito, but Miss Clavel stops her and insists they leave. On their way out, Madeline steals Pepito's motorcycle keys. Later, in class, the girls are forced to write lines, explaining their behaviour.
On their walk, Madeline accidentally falls into the Seine and is rescued by a stray dog named Genevieve. Madeline catches a cold, and when Miss Clavel and the girls leave on their walk, she watches Pepito complaining how he doesn't have his keys. Leopold starts it with a paper clip. Meanwhile, Genevieve finds Madeline and the two try to hide from Lord Covington who is showing the house. Eventually, Miss Clavel finds out about Genevieve, but compromises and says she can sleep in the shed and be kept, but she is not allowed to go in the school. Meanwhile, the girls sabotage the school, so visitors won't want to buy it. Lord Covington comes over that night, and has an argument with Miss Clavel about the school being sabotaged, but Madeline interrupts and admits she did it, trying to back up Miss Clavel, but calling Lord Covington "Cucuface". On his way back home, Covington discovers the dog and turns loose Genevieve despite the pleads of the girls.
They look for her the next day and go to a circus to cheer themselves up, but Madeline decides to run away with the circus because she feels lonely and wants a real home. She tells her best friend Aggie that she's leaving, and makes her swear not to tell a soul. Aggie swears and hugs her goodbye. Madeline walks away sadly and notices Leopold kidnapping Pepito with the help of the clowns called "The Idiots", since they were really henchmen of Leopold. Madeline tries to confront Leopold, who kidnaps her as well. Miss Clavel, not knowing they have been kidnapped, finds out that Madeline has run away and goes to find her. While on her way, she finds Genevieve and takes her along. The next day, Madeline and Pepito discover a motorcycle that the idiots used in their act. She tells Pepito to drive it, since he drove one, but Pepito reveals that he drives a Vespa. Luckily, he is convinced by Madeline, and the two escape Leopold, who follows them. Miss Clavel sees them chasing them and goes after Leopold. Miss Clavel and Leopold are about to both hit Madeline and Pepito, but Pepito swerves away and Miss Clavel cuts Leopold off, making him and the idiots crash into a river. They are arrested, and Pepito and Madeline are reunited with their families.
But just when everything turns out right, Lord Covington comes and introduces the Ambassador of Uzbekistan, who agreed to buy the school. Madeline confronts Covington and convinces him that his wife is still with him, and in the school as well. Miss Clavel assures Madeline that whatever happens, they'll be together. But this is denied by Covington, who says that Madeline is right, and wishes he could do something about it, but has already sold the school. However, the Ambassador calls it off, letting everybody remain at the school. The movie ends with the girls running off, while Miss Clavel follows them. The real-life setting goes back to a storybook-like setting and the words "Fin" appear.
Filmed in Paris in 1997, the story is set in 1956, rather than 1939. Many of the landmarks from the books appear in the film, although some were too crowded with modern traffic to be used. A relative newcomer, Hatty Jones was picked among thousands of applicants in a casting search, which was looking for the girl with "the right height and charm for the role".
The film's costume department went for some artistic licence in developing the costumes for Madeline. Aside from moving the time period to 1950s Paris, the producers elected for saturated blues and reds in the students' uniforms while keeping them as believable as possible; greys were immediately ruled out as "being 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.
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, most notably Madeline who is depicted as an orphan in the film; the 1939 book explicitly states the dollhouse as coming from her Papa, and she is seen with her parents and two siblings in Madeline's Christmas.
Madeline was released to home video in the same year, part of the Columbia TriStar Family Collection series. It was released to DVD in 2004.Hatty Jones (Madeline)
Rachel Dennis (Lucinda)
Eloise Eonnet (Sylvette)
Morgane Farcat (Marie-Odile)
Pilar Garrard (Beatrice)
Emilie Jessula (Elizabeth)
Alice Lavaud (Veronica)
Christina Mangani (Chantal)
Jessica Mason (Serena)
Alix Ponchon (Lulu)
Bianca Strohmann (Victoria)
Clare Thomas (Aggie)
Kristian De La Osa (Pepito)
Frances McDormand (Miss Clavel)
Nigel Hawthorne (Lord Covington aka Cucuface)
Stéphane Audran (Lady Covington)
Arturo Venegas (Mr. Spanish Ambassador)
Katia Caballero (Mrs. Spanish Ambassador)
Katia Tchenko (Mrs. Uzbekistani Ambassador)
Chantal Neuwirth (Hélène the cook)
Ben Daniels (Leopold the tutor)
Emil Abossolo-Mbo (Circus Barker)
Julien Maurel (Idiot Popovov no. 1)
This film received mixed to positive reviews upon release; it now has 62% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 29 reviews. 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." 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."