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KIDS ON FILM

Clever 'Andre' Doesn't Need to Fish for Compliments

August 25, 1994|LYNN SMITH | Lynn Smith is a staff writer for The Times' Life & Style section.

In "Andre," a charming motherless seal pup adopts a Rockport, Me., family, captivating the harbor master father and his lonely youngest daughter but sparking jealousy from his alienated teen-age daughter and bitterness among the town's fishermen, who blame seals for a bad season. (Rated PG.)

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About the only kids who didn't like "Andre" were pre-kindergartners frightened by dark and scary storm scenes, or teen-agers who live in a culture warp where it's unhip to admit to enjoying any movie that doesn't star Arnold Schwarzenegger.

All the rest were glued to the screen, fascinated by the dark, saucer-eyed sea mammal that appeared as graceful as a dancer and more intelligent, funny and heroic than most people. In the tradition of other animal movies, Andre offers an alien's love and devotion to the misunderstood, snarls at the enemy and shows an omniscient grasp of human problems and their solutions. But as a sea creature, he cannot live with them forever.

Meanwhile, to the children's obvious delight, Andre sponges up human behavior, watching TV, playing basketball, sharing a bubble bath. Before the movie was over, children were already imitating his most endearing trait--a Bronx cheer.

Heather and Jennifer Hendricks, 6 and 3, respectively, were speechless afterward. But according to their grandfather, only minutes before, "They were just talking about Andre, Andre, Andre."

The movie, set in 1962, is based on the Goodridge family of Rockport and their famous seal, but was shot in Canada and used sea lions in the title role.

"I liked it when he sticks his whiskers out and does stuff," said Peleiake Pestoni, 10. "It was funny, and it was based on a true story, and it was beautiful."

Peleiake particularly liked the cinematography depicting Andre's odyssey from the Aquarium in Boston, where he is eventually placed during the winter, to the Rockport Harbor, 200 miles away.

"When he comes home at the end, it's just water and mountains in the background," she said.

Her friend Melissa Rough, 10, agreed.

"I liked the part where he kept coming home."

Several children were struck by the sad parts, notably when Andre breaks out of the barn where he is kept in a bathtub the first winter and disappears, leaving a trail of blood in the snow.

Matt Haffner, 6, said he was saddened by a brief glimpse of a floating seal with bullet holes, the victim of an enraged fisherman.

One child had to be carried out of the theater crying, saying "I want to go home" in the midst of a storm scene when Toni, the young daughter, had gone out to sea in a small boat to search for Andre, who had been dumped by Toni's older sister and the sister's boyfriend, the son of an angry fisherman.

Needless to say, all ends well, with Andre playing a role.

Angela Haffner, 12, found the movie slow, though.

"Most of the movie was for little kids, I think."

But she said the subplot involving the surly older sister Paula and her boyfriend added something of interest for older kids.

The excruciating sensitivity of early adolescence comes across when Paula passes a note to Mark, her first crush: "Dear Mark, Do you like me? Yes or No. Circle one." Their first kiss ends in bumping foreheads. As her father becomes enmeshed in protecting Andre, he loses touch with his job and his family, and she complains he "likes that stupid Andre more than me."

The entire Haffner family of six wound up watching the movie when parents Nancy and Frank and and their 15-year-old son, John, couldn't get into "Clear and Present Danger."

"I didn't like it that much," John said. "I like fast movies like 'Speed' and 'Blown Away.' "

Frank disagreed, saying he was as captivated by the family subplots and the animal story as were the younger children.

"I cried about two, three times," he said. "We're an animal family. We have a bird, a rabbit, a dog and a fish."

Unlike some other movies advertised as family films, this one lived up to the content and tone of the preview, Nancy said.

"What you saw was what you got."

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