Picks and Pans Review: Andre

updated 08/29/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/29/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Tina Majorino, Chelsea Field, Keith Carradine, Keith Szarabajka

As warm, fuzzy animal movie stars go, seals hardly rank up there with collies and black stallions. But this goody two-flippers of a kids' film is a pleasure, thanks to Majorino. The 9-year-old costarlet of When a Man Loves a Woman and Corrina, Corrina has cherubic charm and precocity enough to fill Hollywood's long-empty Shirley Temple gap. In Andre, she plays the social-misfit daughter of Carradine, a harbormaster in Rockport, Maine. When Dad brings home an orphaned seal, she becomes obsessed with it.

The movie is based on a true story, onto which writer Dana Baratta has slathered all sorts of dark, psychobabbly subplots involving sibling rivalry, parental guilt, teen romance and a running feud between Carradine and Szarabajka, as a malcontent fisherman who blames seals for his decreasing catch.

The real Andre, who was "adopted" in 1962, died in 1986. The sea lion who portrays him here goes through the standard Disneyish gamut of animal troubles (though this isn't a Disney film): being threatened with confiscation, rescuing Majorino from a storm, and overcoming the natural objections of Field, her mom, to having a seal living in her house.

Road Warrior director George Miller, an Australian with little feel for the nuances of American life, lets the cast mug rampantly. Carradine grins and swaggers as if he were still playing Will Rogers on Broadway. Majorino, however, provides a winning focus. Nobody will ever be able to bite her lip quite so poignantly as little Shirley did, but if Tina can make you care about a not-especially-appealing sea lion, what can't she do? (PG)

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