The first theatrical feature from the Kushner-Locke TV producing outfit, “Andre” is a good-natured family yarn with colorful seacoast locales, an amiable , pet-loving clan and a crafty, comical seal with more tricks up his fin than you can shake a herring at. Though quality kids ‘n’ animal pix “Lassie” and “Black Beauty” have been hitting tough surf this summer, Paramount may find the B.O. waters less challenging now that the seasonal megahits have been launched. Strong kiddie interest built from savvy promo efforts highlighting “Andre’s” aquatic acrobatics should put this ahead of both the dog and pony shows.
Based on a true story and set in Rockport, Maine, in the early ’60s, “Andre” charts the fantastic experiences of harbor master Harry Whitney (Keith Carradine) and his clan — super-mom wife Thalice (Chelsea Field), teens Steve (Shane Meier) and Paula (Aidan Pendleton), and especially grade-schooler Toni (Tina Majorino).
Their lovely, rustic seaside home is packed with chickens, rabbits, pigeons and other critters, and both Dad and daughter Toni seem to prefer their furry friends to the two-legged variety.
While Dad grapples with work-related problems, such as seal-hating fishermen, led by a boozy angler (Keith Szarabajka), Toni battles classmates who taunt her for her country ways, causing her to withdraw further into the world of wildlife. Enter Andre, “played” with astonishing range and skills by Tory the Sea Lion.
Separated from his brood, then rescued by pere Whitney and nursed back to health with the loving help of Toni, Andre proves to be more of a friend and a challenge than the family could imagine.
Essentially an old-fashioned morality play about the healing powers of love and community, “Andre” is most interesting when exploring family dynamics and local politics, with an eye on the growing pains of the human players’ collective moral development.
Rather than serving up a gallery of cliched heroes and villains, Aussie helmer George Miller (“The Man From Snowy River”) steers his able cast through screenwriter Dana Baratta’s more complex weaving of hometown rivalries, issues of conflicting commitments to family, community and nature, and the difficulties encountered on the path from childhood to maturity.
Though it never rises above the conventional to achieve the visionary quality of a true children’s film classic like “The Black Stallion,””Andre” is a light-hearted, entertaining diversion with more on its mind than just capitalizing on the tricks and treats of its raspberry-blowing, basketball-balancing star.
And while many of “Andre’s” antics are clearly pitched comically beyond the realm of reality, pic’s PG rating is sillier than anything in the film, and defies logic unless one is a Luddite farmer whose “parental guidance” includes protecting children from life-affirming movies containing no sex, no nudity, no swearing and no violence. As Andre would say, “BLLLPPPPPPHHHH!”