I honestly believe the entry level Digital Rebel is the best place for beginners to start. It offers basic versions of all the digital photography technologies in a simple, cheap, and easy to use manner. It comes with a basic lens that takes you through all the standard focal lengths, and adding a EF-S 55-250mm f/4.0-5.6 IS takes you up into the super-telephoto range for cheap, with a matching lens quality. This is where I started years ago, and this is still today how Canon has designed their lineup, and by my estimation they've put a lot on the line betting this is the best starting place. An EOS body is a very versatile base that can be used for almost all types of photography.
I do understand your point about shooting film, which is where I started way back in high school. But I also remember hating it, and being frustrated by the amount of time and effort that went into developing a crappy image. Digital allows a photographer to punch out photos extremely quickly, which allows the photographer to experiment and adapt much, much quicker. Some would say this automation and instant results will result in not really learning photography basics, but those people probably wouldn't have had the patience for film in the first place.
As for your comments regarding the size and weight of SLRs, I don't know, there are a lot of film and digital SLRs out there, and I only have four of them, but both my film SLRs are significantly lighter and smaller than my digitals.