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SHOWS FOR YOUNGSTERS AND THEIR PARENTS TOO : Family Channel series puts a human touch on the animal kingdom

January 02, 1994|N.F. MENDOZA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Like Dr. Doolittle before him, zookeeper Dan Winfield not only walks with the animals, he can talk with them too. You'll meet them all this week on The Mighty Jungle, a live-action family comedy premiering on the Family Channel.

Dan (Francis Guinan of "Eerie, Indiana"), his wife Susan (Charlene Fernetz) and their two children live in what seems like a normal suburban neighborhood. But an equatorial rain forest surrounds their home, part of an experiment that hopes to prove wild animals can live together in captivity without the restraints of cages.

Dan's menagerie consists of puppets, animatronics figures and real animals.

A puppeteer in a full-body gorilla suit plays the Cambridge-educated orangutan Winston; his electronically controlled mask works much like those used in the feature film "Gorillas in the Mist."

Vinnie, a New York sewer born-and-bred crocodile, is an animatronics animal with Tony Danza's voice; Viola, a Southern belle of a toucan, features Delta Burke's voice. Jack, a surfer sea lion, is the third featured animatronics character, similar in operation to many of the talking creatures at Disneyland.

Real birds and monkeys are brought in to round out the crew, which includes actress Sylvia Loeillet as Winfield's assistant.

The show, a U.S.-Canadian-French co-production (from Tri-Star, Alliance and Screen Ventures VI, and Le Sabre Groupe), is shot in Toronto before a live audience, with other actors' voices redubbed for Canadian and French audiences.

Relationships among the humans and animals are important to the show, says Canadian producer Greg Copeland (NBC's "Woman on the Run").

"Dan has an excellent relationship with his family, as well as one with the animals," Copeland says. "We've really geared it to all family members as well."

However, youngsters in a test audience were drawn to the animals most. Executive story editor Bernie Orenstein reports: "They loved the way they talked and moved."

"When you see the animals on camera, they really do seem real," notes Copeland's associate, Tim Duncan. "It's not only the kids who'll think the animals are real."

"The Mighty Jungle" airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on the Family Channel. For ages 4 and up.

MORE FAMILY SHOWS

Bravo continues its block of children's programming with Lip Synch (11-11:30 a.m.). The show features a series of award-winning shorts for children, including "Creature Comforts," an Oscar winner for best-animated short and the European Golden Cartoon winner for best animation. Amphibian (2:30-3 p.m.) follows with the tale of a neglected boy who meets an older girl who shares his interest in fish. For ages 2 and up.

Barney Fife, the inept deputy of "The Andy Griffith Show," has become one of the most beloved--and imitated--characters to trip across the TV tube. On Sunday, the Family Channel offers a triple treat of Don Knotts demonstrating different incarnations of the nervous, yet lovable nerd he made famous in the movies How to Frame a Figg (noon-2 p.m.); The Reluctant Astronaut (2-4 p.m.), and The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (4-6 p.m.). For ages 4 and up.

If most kids had their way, they would live on pizza, hamburgers, hot dogs and tacos. Is there a happy medium between what kids want and what's good for them? Maybe. Home Matters (Tuesday 1:30-2 p.m. Discovery) features a segment on "Healthy Eating for Kids" with former 1981 Miss America Ann Scrader, author of "Healthy Yummies for Young Tummies," a cookbook with healthful, easy recipes for kids. She brings along her 9-year-old daughter Hilary to demonstrate how to make new versions of kiddie faves. Susan Powell hosts. For parents.

Creepy campfire tales are the oral version of a roller-coaster ride: They can be both terrifying and exciting. Saturday marks the third-season premiere of Are You Afraid of the Dark? (9:30-10 p.m. Nickelodeon). The Midnight Society (Ross Hull, Raine Pare-Coull, Jodi Rester, Jason Alisharan, Joanna Garcia and Daniel DeSanto) return for more storytelling sessions as they trade eerie, suspense-filled stories. For ages 9 and up.

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