When Walt Disney Productions decides to change its image, it doesn't mess around. Yesterday Disney launched its most ambitious animated film in years, "The Black Cauldron," which differs from its old animated movies by being rated PG. But the most serious sign of new intentions comes within Disney's Touchstone Films division, where the folks who brought you Daryl Hannah as a mermaid in "Splash" are reportedly after an even racier star: Madonna, whom they apparently want for the lead in "Ruthless People." In that comedy -- overseen by the "Airplane" team of James Abrahams and David and Jerry Zucker -- Madonna would play a Beverly Hills housewife who's kidnaped but causes more problems than the abductors bargained for: it seems her husband isn't anxious to get her back, and the kidnapers would rather not hang onto her any longer than they have to. . . .

You've gotta figure you're dealing with a brutally honest or gleefully mischievous actress when you ask how she got a role and the answer is a quick, "Well, I was sleeping with somebody in the business, and they suggested that I stop it and start getting back to work . . ."

Carrie Fisher, it turns out, is on the mischievous side; she's quick to add that there wasn't really a casting couch anywhere in sight when Fisher won her role in "The Man With One Red Shoe," which opened last week to modest business. But Fisher isn't big on straightforward answers to movie-business questions; she'd rather poke fun at the whole business, which started looking pretty odd to her around the time she starred as Princess Leia in George Lucas' "Star Wars," "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi."

"It was hard for me to imagine what I'd do after I got out of the white dress and the big hair," she shrugs. "I mean, what do you do after the Biggest Films of All Time? 'Laverne and Leia?' Vegas, with robots behind you in a kick line? After movies like those, everybody sort of expects you to be the next Rambo or Rambette. I got lots of offers to play a big-haired person in a funny dress with dirt on it and a gun.

"But I liked the idea of playing roles that involved something less than heading the galaxy. It seemed like that was the way to become something like the Peter Lorre of my generation. I don't think that slot has been filled," she says.

So she took small roles in the likes of "Garbo Talks" and "The Man With One Red Shoe," in which she gets to trade in the white dress and big hair for, in one scene, a leopard-skin bikini as she and Tom Hanks play a bedroom game of Tarzan and Jane. "Pretty silly, but real easy to do. That's what scares me about myself . . . really unnatural acts start to feel natural."

From here, Fisher says she has no firm ideas about the kind of roles she's looking for, though she does a cameo in Woody Allen's upcoming "Hannah and Her Sisters." "I'm making this up as I go along," she says, adding that she's writing a book -- albeit one that won't have much to say about her parents, Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds. "It's not about my family, because my brother's gonna write one about my family," she deadpans. "No, he's not really. But I am going to write a satirical book, not an autobiographical one. It'll be about other people's parents. Sort of a cookbook-historical document-science book. Jamie Lee Curtis and Dom DeLuise will star in the movie, and Teena Marie will do the title track."

And then, just in case anyone's taking her seriously, she stops again. "No, I don't really mean that." . . .

New Spielberg is better than old Spielberg, according to last weekend's box-office figures. The re-release of "E.T." did well, making nearly $9 million in its first three days -- but that was only enough to put it in second place, trailing "Back to the Future" by $1.5 million . . . "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome" and "Cocoon" also held up reasonably well over the weekend, while Columbia's problem western, "Silverado," did what it needed to survive. The film made more money in its second weekend than its opening, passing "Rambo" at the box office and apparently riding on enough favorable word-of-mouth to keep its hopes alive.