Never argue with an Ewok. It won't get you anywhere. Even if you win on points, he'll out-cute you every time. It would be just as futile to argue with "The Ewok Adventure," an ABC movie that is sweet, charming and corny in satisfyingly traditional ways. It's indisputably adorable whimsy for an insufficiently whimsical age -- two hours of "Awwww."
Ewoks are squat, portly woollie-woollies who live "deep in an enchanted forest on the distant moon of Endor," according to narrator Burl Ives, frequently trotted in to cover lapses in continuity. The characters were introduced by George Lucas in "Return of the Jedi"; Lucas himself wrote the primitive story for and executive-produced "Ewok Adventure," his first TV movie. It airs at 8 Sunday night on Channel 7.
The story told here takes place either before or after the Ewoks encountered Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo and their friends The Empire. None of them has anything to do with "Ewok's" shamelessly simple tale about two children who search for their missing parents after the family starcruiser (and shouldn't every family have one?) crashes on Endor. This Endor -- actually the rarefied woods of Marin County -- doesn't have a witch but it does have a monster, one Giant Gorax by name, who spends most of his time in a nasty hollow mountain. He has the parents dangling in a suspended cage as if they were a couple of canaries.
About 45 minutes into the program, after some drowsy procrastination, the Ewoks decide to help the kids rescue Mom and Dad and get the plot going. "Num-num, num-num," an Ewok says, which seems to signify "yes, of course, by all means." The Ewok language isn't translated with subtitles, but one gets the drift. When excited they go "Hoosh-hoosh-hoosh," while "hotcha" apparently signifies agreement. Ewoks are rarely disagreeable. And they are an improvement on the human race. They haven't invented television yet.
The creatures have names like Deej, Widdle, Kaink, Shodu and Wicket. The little girl is named Cindel and her brother is named Mace. Mace? What kind of a name is that for a kid? It's the one really dumb touch in the film. As played by Eric Walker, an unpleasant sourpuss, Mace is no Little Luke, either, but Aubree Miller is pretty irresistible as Cindel, her blond hair tied up with a ribbon so that she looks a little like a bunch of asparagus.
Irresistibility is obviously the goal here. The Ewoks are an endearing lot, a low-tech society with magic tricks up fuzzy sleeves. They like to dance and stand on their heads. They get a little weepy at family farewells. They enjoy a good hug, but they're so fat they can't get their arms around one another. Tumbling and bumbling and rolling around the forest, they're a bunch of John Belushis and Lou Costellos. You want to take them home, and if I know the toy business, you can. For a price.
At least with the Ewoks you get the feeling they were invented as characters first and merchandise later, which isn't the case with most of the sinister junk that will be peddled endlessly on TV now that the holiday selling season has arrived -- like Rainbow Brite dolls and those lousy Muppet Babies. In terms of cuteness, the Ewoks reduce the Muppet Babies to smoldering cinders.
Every really good children's entertainment carries reminders of either "The Wizard of Oz" or "Peter Pan," or so it could be asserted (and just was). Bob Carrau's screenplay for "The Ewok Adventure" evokes both. When the rescue caravan finally sets out to slay the Gorax, it encounters and drafts into service a woodsman, though not a tin one, and an Ewok "priestess" who when first glimpsed is frozen in a woodsmannish pose. Later the gang is beguiled by a squeaky swarm of special-effects fireflies, one of whom is adopted as a Tinkerbell-like mascot. She comes in handy in a pinch, too.
Parents of very little children may appreciate being warned that there are scary parts to the film. The little boy falls into a strange lagoon with a glass top that traps him beneath the water. A giant spider web in the Gorax's cave naturally enough has a couple of yechy giant spiders living in it. And one of the Ewoks does not make it back from the expedition alive. Here the filmmakers erred. If they had to dispatch an Ewok to eternity, they should have done so with some kind of magical dazzle, the kind of thing that befell Obi-Wan Kenobi when he went from a mere protoplasmic state to an echt-oplasmic one. There's no reason why kids should have to confront death in a lark like this.
John Korty directed the movie; he isn't known for special-effects spectacles, but he is known for his sensitive way with delicate material ("The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman," "Who Are the DeBolts? And Where Did They Get 19 Kids?"). His humane touches are just what a project like this needs. It lifts "The Ewok Adventure" above the realm of rote derring-do. Korty gives the story heart and takes it beyond cuddly.
Lavishly unobjectionable and therefore morally superior to most prime-time fare this season, "Ewok" is even topped off with a moral, spoken by Ives: "that courage, loyalty and love are the strongest forces in the universe." Awwww. "Ewok" is not only watchable, it's downright Betamaxable.