When her father is threatened with financial ruin, young Sara Stanley (Sarah Polley) is shipped off to her late mother's relatives on Prince Edward Island. Sara arrives in Avonlea with her Nanny Louisa (Frances Hyland) in tow, only to meet up with the formidable King family, headed by the imperious Aunt Hetty (Jackie Burroughs), who also happens to be the local school teacher. "Road to Avonlea: The Movie" consists of the first two episodes of the series, which establish the characters. Sara Stanley was a character featured in "The Story Girl," which was author Lucy Maud Montgomery's favorite novel, and its sequel "The Golden Road." Along with two collections of short stories known as the Chronicles of Avonlea, these four books are the material from which various episodes were developed for this series.
What becomes fascinating in this "movie," written by Heather Conkie (who proved to be superb at adapting the works of Montgomery) is how the premises of "The Story Girl" are redeveloped for this series. In the books Sara would come to visit her King cousins each summer, heading back to Montreal in the fall. The cousins were always happy to see each other and were sad when they were parted. However, the situation needed to be altered so Sara was a more permanent part of the Avonlea community. They could have made Sara an orphan, in the grand tradition of Montgomery's most famous literary creations Anne of Green Gables and Emily of New Moon, but it is important that at least on some level Sara WANTS to stay on PEI. At the heart is one of Montgomery's strongest themes, how a young girl forges bonds of affection with a spinster. Aunts Hetty and Olivia (Meg Ruffman) certainly recall Emily's Aunts Elizabeth and Laura and there are strong echoes of that novel in this story. But it takes a while for Sara to make friends with her cousins Felicity (Gema Zamprogna) and Felix (Zachary Bennett).
Sara earns her name as "The Story Girl" in the second half of the story. The town had sold tickets to a magic lantern show to help raise money for new books for the Avonlea school library, but it turns out Mr. Beatty is a con man who runs away with the money. Even worse, Sara makes the mistake of helping him get away. Feeling guilty Sara will not stop until she has redeemed herself and helped raise the money. When she happens to stumble upon Jasper Dale (R.H. Thomson), known as the "Awkward Man," taking photographs in a meadow, she comes up with grand plans for her own magic lantern show. However, there are those who still think that Sara Stanley is putting on airs and needs to be taken down a peg.
One of the strengths of this series, in addition to its strong ensemble cast of solid character actors, is the casting of Sarah Polley as Sara Stanley. Polley had already proved herself to be one of the best "child" actresses of her generation before she got this role and she only continues to prove in this episode and the rest of the series. I used to have the Disney Channel just so I could watch "Avonlea" (as it was called south of the border) and made a point of honeymooning on PEI, staying at the "White Sands Hotel." So, it is pretty clear that I am just one of countless millions of enraptured fans. Whether you come from "Avonlea" to Montgomery's novels, or the other way around, just be sure you enjoy both.