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Television Reviews : 'Winnie' Wins, 'Duckula' Doesn't Count in Debuts

February 05, 1988|CHARLES SOLOMON

Two new series on cable TV represent the extremes of the animation spectrum. "The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh" on the Disney Channel (Sundays at 8:30 a.m.) ranks as the best made-for-TV cartoon show in several seasons; "Count Duckula" (which debuts on Nickelodeon Saturday at 7:30 p.m.) is an unimaginative dud, more turkey than duck.

Animation fans greeted Disney's plans to adapt A. A. Milne's childhood favorite to the small screen with a mixture of skepticism and dismay. The studio's top artists animated the characters in three popular featurettes during the late '60s/early '70s: No TV show could compete with them. Why invite more unflattering comparisons?

Although its production values are lavish by television standards, no one's going to mistake the new show for an Oscar-winner like "Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day" (1968). But the program succeeds on its own terms because the personalities of the characters have been maintained.

Pooh remains the well-intentioned but befuddled "bear of very little brain"; Piglet is as timorous as ever, Rabbit as flustered. Paul Winchell provides Tigger with an irresistible combination of ebullient bombast and silken growls. The only character who fails to make the transition is Eeyore. The writers don't seem to understand his resolutely gloomy personality, and Peter Cullen's voice lacks the proper sense of resignation.

Fans of the original books will find some changes have been made. This Christopher Robin is a very American little boy, with a mischievous imagination that makes him seem more like Calvin in Bill Watterson's "Calvin and Hobbes" than Milne's British schoolboy.

The narrator (voiced by the late Sebastian Cabot in the theatrical films) has been discarded. But adults who grew up reading "The House at Pooh Corner" will enjoy watching the show with their own children--or by themselves.

"The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh" will move into ABC's Saturday morning lineup in September.

Despite its clever premise (the scion of a clan of vampire ducks got turned into a vegetarian when his nanny mistakenly transfused him with ketchup), "Count Duckula" is about as much fun as sitting through the neighbors' vacation slides.

The opening episode, "No Sex, Please, We're Egyptians," ignores the comedic potential of this material and tries to copy the adventure spoofs in the old Donald Duck comic books.

With Nanny and Igor the butler, Duckula searches an Egyptian tomb for a "mystic saxophone" that gives its player the power over life and death. Duckula's jazz riffs on the sax make mummies and hieroglyphics dance, but the instrument's power never materializes, and the show ends before the story really begins.

Made in England by Cosgrove Hall, "Count Duckula" is hampered by a leaden pace that kills the sight gags about a pack of crooks who keep falling off buildings. The verbal humor--some lame puns and an attempt to copy Abbott and Costello's "Who's on First" routine with two Egyptian priests named "Whobie" and "Eubie"--is even less funny.

Nickelodeon's press kit compares the program to the brilliant humor of the Jay Ward and Warner Bros. cartoons, but "Count Duckula" isn't even as funny as "Rocky IV," let alone "Rocky and Bullwinkle."

(Note: Some local cable systems broadcast all Nickelodeon programming from an East Coast rather than a West Coast satellite feed, which means "Count Duckula" might air here three hours earlier--at 4:30 p.m.--in some areas.)

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