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Thanksgiving is Brighter with the New Adaptation of 'Anne of Green Gables'
November 23, 2016  | By David Hinckley

Anne of Green Gables, a new telemovie adaptation of the beloved novel, further solidifies Thanksgiving’s reputation as one of TV’s last remaining safe places.

PBS will show this new version of Anne, which aired earlier this year in Canada, at 8 p.m. ET Thursday.

Any day that also includes the Macy’s parade, the National Dog Show and a whole lot of football, plus a PBS reairing of Pollyanna after Anne wraps up, is a day when parents can be a touch less vigilant about monitoring the remote.

This Anne of Green Gables is sunnier, both in script and in its almost neon-bright visuals, than some other adaptations have been. Or will be, since CBC and Netflix are now filming a longer version that they promise will be grittier.

But no version of Anne is going to be dark and unsettling, because Anne herself, played wonderfully here by Ella Ballentine (top), is such a winning character.

While she can drive everyone nuts sometimes, there’s never a moment when we don’t want her to win and when we aren’t confident she will find a way.

L.M. Montgomery, real name Lucy, wrote the original Anne novel in 1908, a time when the most poignant character in any story about children was the orphan.

So that’s what Anne is. Her parents died of the fever when she was 5 and she got kicked around to a series of homes and orphanages until she’s now been sent to live with a middle-aged brother and sister named Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, played here by Martin Sheen (with Ballantine, below) and Sara Botsford.

The Cuthberts had “ordered” a boy, to help with chores at their Green Gables farm on the somewhat isolated Prince Edward Island. Their first instinct when they see Anne and realize there’s been a gender mixup is to ship her back.

Her buoyant personality, soaring imagination and unexpectedly precocious nature charms them just enough – when she’s not driving the rigid Marilla nuts – so they let her stay.

The Green Gables book series, and other adaptations, have taken Anne’s story up into adulthood. This movie only covers the first year or two, making it mostly a retelling of the first chapter with hints of what fans know is to come.

By modern standards, Anne’s adventures are decidedly modest. She makes friends. A boy pulls her pigtails at school. She wants a dress with puffed sleeves.

It’s life in another, simpler era. But it doesn’t play as just a snapshot of the past, nor does it play as a Hallmark movie with a predictable series of steps toward an inevitable ending.

Oh, sure, it will bring mist to the average viewer’s eye. But Anne and the Cuthberts have earned that moment of sentimental pleasure, just as the novel has earned its tens of millions of readers.

It’s a timeless story well told, and in truth, it couldn’t air on a better night than Thanksgiving.

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