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‘The Adventures of Huck Finn’ (PG)

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
April 02, 1993

To say that Mark Twain's "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" has been "Disney-fied" and turned into a bland, action-adventure film for kids is a grotesque understatement. As it is, this real-life adaptation couldn't have had less reality if it had been animated.

But when did Twain's original ever make it onto the screen intact? And who but the most talented filmmaker around could even possibly do it justice? By now, audiences are so used to seeing this story of life on the Mississippi diminished at the movies and on TV that the true radical spirit of Samuel Clemens's satiric original has been lost. Over the years, it has been transformed by kid culture from a masterpiece about race and growing up into a dull tale like this one about your everyday, garden-variety white boy named Huck and the trouble he gets into with his black friend Jim, a runaway slave.

In reality, Twain's Huck Finn has more in common with Bart Simpson than he does with this movie's tepid hero. Stephen Sommers, who adapted and directed this version for Disney, manages to remain faithful to the events of Twain's classic while at the same time egregiously missing the point. Most kids, of course, won't notice the difference. They'll like Elijah Wood's spunky Huck and Courtney B. Vance's kindly Jim and hate the mean folks who treat them badly (including, for good reason, Ron Perlman's evil Pap). They'll also love Jason Robards (who goes through the motions) as the King, and his scoundrel sidekick the Duke (who's played by an appropriately seedy-looking Robbie Coltrain).

But doesn't it make a difference that the racial atmosphere is so different in this version that all racial epithets are avoided, and, if they weren't, might seem out of place? Still, given what's available for kids at the movies these days, any film that's even moderately appropriate is celebrated, even if it is only a passably entertaining, handsomely produced, Little Golden Book bowdlerization of a great book by one of our history's greatest novelists. The folks at Disney could have done worse, I suppose, but certainly they could have done better.

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