The stop-motion animation of the title character in “Runaway Ralph,” a two-part “Weekend Special” airing on ABC Saturday and Nov. 5 at 11:30 a.m. (Channels 7, 3, 10 and 42), attains a level of polish rarely seen on a children’s program. Unfortunately, Malcolm Marmorstein’s teleplay fails to attain the same level of quality and charm.
Ralph, the rambunctious star of the Peabody Award-winning special, “The Mouse and the Motorcycle,” is a little brown rodent who talks to humans and zooms through the halls of the Mountain View Inn under the benevolent eye of Matt the bellhop (Ray Walston). Angered at having to give his siblings rides on his motorcycle, Ralph runs away from home.
After a disastrous encounter with a speeding truck, he befriends Garfield (Fred Savage), a nerdy little boy who’s having less than the time of his life at camp. Garfield saves Ralph from the clutches of the camp feline, Catso. Ralph helps Garfield clear his name when he’s unjustly accused of stealing another camper’s watch. As summer draws to a close, Ralph leaves his new friend and returns to the Inn--to give rides to his brothers and sisters.
Savage is quietly convincing as an awkward boy who’s bright enough to realize that the summer camp pushes an artificial brand of fun, but who still wants to join the game. The audience feels his need to establish a bond with someone , even a mouse.
Animator/voice actor John Matthews makes Ralph seem real. His stop-motion animation of the mouse looks smooth and natural, even in tricky sequences, like the one of Ralph unlacing a shoe.
But the script fails to explain why these characters do what they do. After his misadventures with the truck and Catso, it’s clear that Ralph has had enough of the “wild world.” But why does he go back to his obnoxious siblings? He could just as easily stay with Garfield, who gives him everything he wants, including peanut butter sandwiches. Even a mouse needs motivation.
Parents with small children will probably want to set their VCR’s for “Runaway Ralph,” but they should be prepared to answer “why” questions from young viewers--Marmorstein doesn’t offer them much in the way of explanations.