Perfectly acceptable children’s version of Abe and Mary Lincoln as seen through the eyes of their young son Tad is scripted by Ernest Kinoy (“Roots”) and follows the family from Springfield, Ill., to Washington, D.C. Casting of Kris Kristofferson as a full-faced Abe and a mechanical Jane Curtin as Mary flattens the familiar docudrama no matter how much research went into it; “Tad” leans to artifice.
Bug Hall’s title character recites what happens in the beautiful but bland production. It isn’t much fun in the White House, and Tad and slightly older brother Willie (Tyler Long) are often scamps trying to scare up excitement. Teenager Elmer Ellsworth (Billie Worley), who came with them from Springfield as a family escort, sometimes entertains them, but mostly he’s busy with militia stuff.
The boys lead office seekers waiting outside Lincoln’s office on a semi-merry chase through the White House sheets drying on
the lines; they ride a goat buggy into their mother’s tea party, play soldier , practice order drill with the household staff and glimpse the Confederate flag from the rooftop.
Their much older brother, Robert (Kieran Mulroney), is away at Harvard and then in the Army. There are no playmates, and Mary’s not helpful. Abe’s loving, a model of patience, but he’s busy running the country. Their parents hire Julia Taft (Jean Louisa Kelly) as a “restraining influence,” but it’s about then that viewers might start wondering why the boys aren’t hitting the school books.
The Civil War doesn’t help, and Tad’s abruptly left alone, lonely and needful. He carries on that way until the day of his father’s assassination, which he hears about accidentally from a member of the household staff.
Director Rob Thompson has his hands full with some of the principals, but Hall, who played Alfalfa in “The Little Rascals,” and Long are troupers who work hard to sell the story. The family telepic has its moments, such as Tad getting his mother to stop crying and Mary Lincoln first seeing her uniformed Robert bringing a dispatch to his father.
But the vidpic’s script and direction are too often polite, even artificial, as though family fare can’t include stronger texture. The production’s design by Bill Malley is eye-catching.
Location filming in historic spots helps. White House family scenes were filmed in Richmond’s Center for Educational Outreach, a remarkable scale model of the original White House and once the Confederate Women’s Home. Springfield is repped by Petersburg’s Battersea Plantation and Midlothian’s Old Dominion Yard.
George S. Clinton’s unobtrusive score is beautiful. Other tech credits are good.