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TV REVIEWS : 'Miracle Child' Revisits the Magic of the Family Movie

April 06, 1993|RAY LOYND

Mix a little baby-abandoned-on-doorstep with a touch of Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life" and you have the family movie "Miracle Child" (9 p.m. tonight on Channel 4).

The unexpected pleasure is that even adults without kids should find it watchable. Produced by Disney Family Classics, the movie returns the TV-movie genre to the long-dormant world of fantasy and a vine-shrouded small town so mythical it's almost dreamy.

As Disney movies for the networks go--remember those 20-plus years of "Disney's Wonderful World" and "The Disney Sunday Movie"?--"Miracle Child" is much less cloying and better made than the garden variety Disney TV movie. Gerald DiPego's script (adapted from the book "Miracle at Clement's Pond" by Patricia Pendergraf) weds a kind of Huck Finn-inspired baby caper to an adult romance between characters who have both squandered parenthood and thus have much to learn from each other.

Drawn ever tightly together are the despairing young widow (Crystal Bernard of "Wings"), who abandons her baby at pond-side among bulrushes that are almost biblical, and a travelin' man (the affable John Terry) who's fighting to reclaim his own son (Graham Sack as a likable, latter-day Huck).

In the show's best and keynote scene, the baby literally (and even plausibly) plops like an angel out of a rainy, stormy sky into the arms of the town's beloved, vaguely addled spinster (Grace Zabriskie, in top form). Miracles suddenly reverse the town's misery index. Drought and unemployment disappear--only to be replaced by boosterism and greed.

Director Michael Pressman manages an unstressed momentum. And the plot's inevitability is triggered by the return of the anguished mother in the guise of a nurse to the local Mother Teresa-like doctor (Cloris Leachman).

In the wake of a slew of TV movies pulled from newspaper headlines, "Miracle Child," as formulaic as it is, is a welcome change of pace.

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