The Ewoks are back. Furry, bright-eyed little critters with hearts of gold and box-office grosses to match, they were introduced by George Lucas in the film "Return of the Jedi" and given their own TV adventure last November. They make their second appearance on the small screen tomorrow night (8 on Channel 7) in "Ewoks: The Battle for Endor."
"Battle" is clearly the operative word here. Producer Thomas G. Smith has labeled the movie "much more action-oriented" (read "violent") than the last one, prompting ABC to issue a parental advisory -- an odd thing for a show clearly aimed at children not much bigger than the Ewoks themselves. Sure enough, in the first five minutes of the program, our miniheroes are attacked by hairy-chinned monsters with skeleton faces who burn their homes and murder the entire family of Cindel, the adorable non-Ewok heroine.
In a belted tunic and suede boots, with a headband struggling to keep a mop of blond curls off her porcelain-doll face, Cindel (played by Aubree Miller) looks like a cross between Shirley Temple and Madonna. Vying with her for the picture's cuteness crown is her constant companion, Wicket the Ewok, who waddles his way out of the clutches of the nasty creatures and into our helpless hearts. Together the pair tread through the forests of the planet Endor, encountering various dangers and delights on their way to free the other Ewoks from gruesome kidnapers.
"Battle for Endor" has even less of a plot than the fairy-tale adventures that made Lucas famous. And there are fewer wondrous special effects, humorous interludes and imaginative new creatures than fans have come to expect. But there are enough of all of these in this otherwise slow-paced movie to boost it above the average level of TV family fare.
In one of the more magical moments, an angelic-looking blond woman standing beside a peaceful white horse swirls her wrap around her shoulders and -- in a shower of sparks -- turns into a raven-haired witch on a rearing black stallion.
Wilford Brimley gives the movie's best performance as the gruff but kindly old man who grudgingly befriends Cindel and Wicket. But the real scene-stealer is Brimley's companion, Teek, an irresistible little creature with a mischievous grin, ears that flop at right angles and an uncontrollable giggle that makes him sound like Alvin the Chipmunk. Teek moves in fast-forward, occasionally zipping headlong into a tree but never seeming to lose his good humor. Kids who loved Yoda will certainly love him.
Families with small children should know that despite the extended periods of laser-firing and arrow-shooting, the violence in this movie is really quite mild. Creatures' bodies hit the dirt with reckless abandon, but no blood is shed (Cindel learns of her family's demise when the lights on her wristband go out). Families with big children should know that the tale is a simple one with no surprises but plenty of charm.
As Cindel prepares to leave Endor, she looks into the upturned faces of Wicket and Teek and tearfully proclaims, "I'll come back and visit you as soon as I can." Anyone with half a heart can't help but hope she means it.