Madeline is a 1998 live-action adaptation of the book series by Ludwig Bemelmans, starring Hatty Jones as the title character, Frances McDormand as Miss Clavel and Nigel Hawthorne as Lord Cucuface aka Lord Covington. The film encompasses the plots of four Madeline books. It was released on July 10, 1998 by TriStar Pictures.
"In an old house in Paris that was covered with 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, Madeline attends a boarding school run by Miss Clavel, a nun. She is the only orphan and wishes she had a family. She goes on daily walks, eats her favorite meal "Chicken Hélèn" (named after the cook 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 because she was very sick. She then sees a chicken in Helen's car, and finds out that it's the Chicken Helen 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 a 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 because his wife died. 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 Helen 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 terror 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 River and is rescued by a stray dog named Geneviève. 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, Geneviève finds Madeline and the two try to hide from Lord Covington who is showing the house. Eventually, Miss Clavel finds out about Geneviève, 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 Geneviève 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 alone 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 henchman 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.