Kids watch the darnedest things
Children's programming is flooded with six-month fads and 90-minute toy ads masquerading as films. The odds that writers, illustrators, or directors will continue to create quality work are too risky even by Las Vegas standards. Perhaps that's why so many of us worship the movies and shows from our childhoods: The Muppet Show, Schoolhouse Rock, H.R. Pufnstuf and the other Krofft creatures, Hanna-Barbera cartoons, 3-2-1 Contact. Even Romper Room looks golden in hindsight. Maybe not.
But when USA Film Festival chooses to honor icons from the golden age of kiddie program during its annual KidFilm fest, it's not nostalgia; it's necessity. There are no clear contemporary winners, not when Nickelodeon's around to shove Rugrats down Junior's throat. This year, KidFilm honors The Weston Woods Studio, responsible for animated films based on such classic children's literature as Where the Wild Things Are, Musical Max, Harold and the Purple Crayon, and Chrysanthemum. Morton Schindel founded the studio almost 50 years ago, and he and director-producer Paul Gagne will attend the tributes to the studio, which will be hosted by Weston Woods Studio actress Diana Canova and musician Crystal Taliefero. Those two also will host tributes (both attended by Schindel and Gagne) that will include screenings of some of their classics and award-winners, plus the premiere of Miss Nelson Has a Field Day.
KidFilm is also a chance for independent and Hollywood studios to showcase new films, videos, and television shows. Warner Bros. will premiere My Dog Skip, which is scheduled to be released here within a month. Based on Texas legend Willie Morris' book about his childhood, the film stars Frankie Muniz (star of Fox's new Malcolm in the Middle) as Willie, a kid whose mother (Diane Lane) gives him a dog, since he hasn't made any human friends. Unlike in the book, Skip is more facilitator than friend, helping Willie to meet the prettiest girl in school and become friends with other boys. Skip (played by several dogs, including Frasier's Eddie) is also the loyal antidote to Dink Jenkins (Luke Wilson), the hometown hero who disappoints Willie. The film is set in Mississippi in 1942 and stars Kevin Bacon as Willie's dad.
Showtime presents the world premiere of The Wishing Tree, a film starring Blair Underwood as Magic Man, who helps two children find a magical tree. The Secret Life of Girls and Pirates of the Plain both make regional premieres during the festival. Linda Hamilton stars in The Secret Life of Girls as the mother of Natalie (Majanadra Delfino from Roswell), who has problems accepting her looks, especially when compared with her best friend (Meagan Good of Cousin Skeeter). The story is set in Oregon during the '70s and is based on director Holly Goldberg Sloan's adolescence. The three stars will attend the premiere. In Pirates of the Plain, Tim Curry -- forever known as Dr. Frank N. Furter -- stars as Jezebel Jack, a pirate whose ship and mutinous crew are transported to a modern-day Nebraska wheat field, where he fights for control of his ship...and saves a family's farm.
Other highlights include screenings of classics The Wizard of Oz and The Princess Bride, an animation showcase, and two movies made by students in a filmmaking class at Dallas Children's Theater. Sounds better than the actual USA Film Festival, come to think of it.
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