It's not as if you couldn't miss with a story about two cute kids and an adorable dog. Brother, how you could miss!But the creators of "The Prince of Central Park" were right on the button. The show is a gem, a charmer, a joy for children and adults to watch, if possible, together.
It airs tonight at 8 on Channel 9.
"Prince" is about a pair of preadolescent orphans who run away from a reckless guardian in Manhattan and take up residence in a Central Park tree - "a safe place," the brother calls it, "up high, away from everything."
The boy and his sister live an adventure in survival and prove models of resourcefulness and good companionship; they become the only people in their own world, the way only embattled children can. Eventually they are allied with a lonely little old lady who leads the way to a happy ending.
Producer-director Harvey Hart and writer Jeb Rosebrook have conspicuously avoided the preciousness one might no special sensitivity in such theatrical films as the herky-jerky "Fortune and Men's Eyes," but he shows plenty here. In adapting the original novel by Evan H. Rhodes, Rosebrook added the character of the sister - it had been just boy and dog - and softened edges, but remained faithful to the book's resilient spunk.
With the valuable help of cinematographer Victor J. Kemper, Hart sustains the visual illusion of a semimythical Central Park that seems always at its Sunday best - rousingly ethnic, crazy with life, benignly indifferent to the mean streets that surround it. Old men jog and jug bands jam.
At the center of this idyllic kingdom are the self-dubbed prince and his princess sister, both played with great skill and conviction by T.J. Hargrave and Lisa Richards. Hargrave has a very concerned and intellgent face, the kind eyeglasses seem to complete. Richards, acting here for the first time, shows spontaneity and presence. Shadow, their dog, is the very essence of attentive tolerance.
Hart even manages to get a subdued, affecting performance from that 80-year-old ham Ruth Gordon, as the old lady. The three shyly reach out for one another and do common battle against the force of evil, embodied in a surly young mugger.
As with only the best of implausible tales, "Prince" is so touching that one is glad to suspend disbelief. The defiance of reality is in this case sweet and heroic.