Like the peaks of the Swiss Alps where little orphan Heidi whiles away the hours, British director Paul Marcus has lost his head in the clouds. His adaptation of the 19th-century children's novel by Johanna Spyri is utterly joyless despite a spirited performance by In America's Emma Bolger. She shines on a supporting cast of wretched souls but, in trying to avoid the sentimentality implied by this simple set-up, Marcus drains the story of all emotion.
As Heidi's grumpy grandpa, Max Von Sydow provides the only anchor in a meandering plot. He brings tension with a palpable sense of something dark lurking in his past, but he's woefully underused. Instead, much of the screen time goes to Heidi's misadventures in Frankfurt where she's drafted in as a playmate for the wheelchair-bound Clara (Jessica Claridge).
"STALE AND SUPERFICIAL"
Disappointingly, screenwriter Brian Finch fails to draw a convincing relationship between the two girls, and discord between Heidi and villainous housekeeper Ms Rottenmeier (Geraldine Chaplin) is equally stale and superficial. On top of that, the script desperately lacks a sense of humour. A lame episode involving some smuggled kittens, Rottenmeier squealing in horror, and a lot of girlish giggling serves as the comic climax.
When Heidi finally returns to her Alpine home, the story clambers uncomfortably to an over-the-top conclusion and the effects of altitude become overwhelming. Having sucked all the oxygen out of the room with a mercilessly drab re-telling, Marcus tacks on a skippy-yippy happy ending that will make you dizzy and nauseous.