Picks and Pans Review: Eloise at the Plaza

updated 05/05/2003 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/05/2003 01:00AM

ABC (Sun., April 27, 7 p.m. ET)
Critic's Choice

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It's a tricky business basing a live-action TV movie on a much-loved series of illustrated children's books. Animation is a better bet if you want to get the look just right. But director Kevin Lima, whose credits include 102 Dalmatians as well as the cartoon feature Tarzan, does a commendable job of capturing Eloise's whimsical world in this high-energy comedy from The Wonderful World of Disney.

Like the first Eloise book, published in 1955, the film establishes the 6-year-old title character as the towheaded terror of the swank Plaza Hotel in Manhattan. With her rich mother off in Europe, Eloise (Sofia Vassilieva) joyrides in the elevators and barrels down the halls of the very proper place, with no one to rein her in but a tolerant British nanny (top-billed Julie Andrews in a supporting role) who's as much a chum as a guardian. Lima keeps the camera on the move to convey our girl's full-speed-ahead spirit, and 10-year-old Vassilieva gives Eloise the requisite cuteness without glossing over the fact that this pampered kid drives many grown-ups mad. Call her spoiled but not rotten.

When she's not busy running up the room-service tab or bugging the hotel manager (Jeffrey Tambor), Eloise steers Nanny toward romance and injects a massive dose of excitement into the life of a lonely little prince. The plotting isn't first-class, but a sense of fun pervades the Plaza.

BOTTOM LINE: Family fare with flair

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