Cross "The Karate Kid" and "Home Alone," give a nod to "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," and you get "3 Ninjas" (citywide), a lively, good-looking kiddie action comedy best left to those under 10. Although their attention may wander, parents can be grateful that there's some substance as well as fun in this Disney release, for martial arts is presented as a matter of defense rather than aggression, emphasizing that it is a matter of mind and spirit as well as body and requiring resourcefulness and discipline.
Victor Wong, that sly and marvelous character actor most fondly remembered in Wayne Wang's "Dim Sum" and "Eat a Bowl of Tea," stars as a grandfather who teaches his three appealing little grandsons (Michael Treanor, Max Elliott Slade and Chad Power) the ancient ways of the Japanese ninja warriors. Their often-absent FBI agent father (Alan McRae) looks a bit askance at his father-in-law's mystical faith in ninja training, but he soon has reason to be grateful to him. Wong's sole regret as a teacher is having once taken on as a pupil a man (Rand Kingsley) who turns out to be the movie's bad guy, a ruthless arms dealer who winds up taking hostage the three little ninjas.
In adapting a story by Kenny Kim, writer Edward Emanuel cleverly establishes that the boys actually have an opportunity to call the cops but choose to take on Kingsley's minions themselves as a way of proving the validity of their grandfather's teachings to their father. But then Emanuel undercuts himself by having Kingsley send in a trio of punks--every other nasal word out of their mouths is Dude --to snatch the youngsters, even though he's seen with his own eyes the three boys' formidable martial arts skills. Why not send in his own champion martial arts henchman (Toru Tanaka) at the outset when so much is at stake? Presumably, Disney hopes very young audiences won't notice this implausibility, which director Jon Turtletaub wisely does not dwell on. Surely, the studio is also hoping that youngsters won't notice just what a derivative film "3 Ninjas" (rated PG presumably for mild violence) is.
Also on the bill: David Block's zany cartoon "Petal to the Metal," in which delivery cat Bonkers D. Bobcat, Disney's newest 'toon star in his debut, faces chaos in attempting to deliver flowers to sexy movie star Fawn Deer.
Victor Wong: Grandpa
Michael Treanor: Rocky
Max Elliott Slade: Colt
Chad Power: Tum Tum
A Touchstone Pictures presentation of a Global Venture Hollywood production. Director Jon Turteltaub. Producer Martha Chang. Executive producer Shunji Hirano. Screenplay by Edward Emanuel; based on a story by Kenny Kim. Cinematographer Richard Michalak. Editor David Rennie. Costumes Mona May. Music Rick Marvin. Production design Kirk Petrucelli. Art directors Ken Kirchener, Greg Grande. Set decorator Carol Pressman. Sound Bill Robbins. Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes.
MPAA-rated PG (for mild violence).