Picks and Pans Review: Ruby Bridges

updated 01/19/1998 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/19/1998 01:00AM

ABC (Sun., Jan. 18, 7 p.m. ET)

C+

This nobly intentioned TV movie plays like a child's primer on race relations, but would you expect complexity from The Wonderful World of Disney? Based on a true story from the early '60s, the drama focuses on the first African-American pupil to enter the William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans. When 6-year-old Ruby Bridges (Chaz Monét) walks in—protected by federal marshals from furiously hostile demonstrators—white parents pull their kids out. The segregationist boycott leaves bright Ruby literally in a class by herself, where she is taught by Barbara Henry (Penelope Ann Miller), a transplanted Boston idealist. Child psychiatrist Dr. Robert Coles (Kevin Pollak), who seems never to have heard of racism before learning of Ruby's case, volunteers to help "this little tiny adorable Negro girl" through the traumatic situation, but mostly he just marvels at her courage and good humor. Although some of the elementary dialogue will have adult viewers squirming like restless first graders ("Ruby," says the teacher, "do you know what slavery is?"), Michael Beach gives grown-up depth to the character of Ruby's father, Abon. And Monét, 7, is adorable.

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