TV Reviews : Huck and Tom Go 'Back to Hannibal'

Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer are young men in their 20s carving out professional careers in law and journalism when they reunite to save their old black friend, Jim, from a bum murder rap. The adventure, "Back to Hannibal: The Return of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn," airs at 7 p.m. Sunday on the Disney Channel.

There's nothing wrong with dramatizing a reunion between Huck and Tom. The trouble with "Back to Hannibal" is that the production, shot on Missouri locations, is too romanticized.

Touchstone should have made this movie, not the Disney Channel. It's fair enough for producer Hugh Benson, writer Roy Johansen and director Paul Krasny to use Twain as an inspiration. But Twain isn't juvenile literature or "The Hardy Boys." This production mirrors the outlines of Mark Twain's world--Huck floating down river on a raft, thickheaded townspeople, Mississippi paddle wheelers--but not that "gob of mud" that characterizes Twain.

Anyway, with welcome irony, Huck (Mitchell Anderson) didn't flee civilization and light out for the territory. He became a newspaper reporter. And Tom (Raphael Sbarge), in another sentient touch, remained the hustler that he always was and went into law.

Becky Thatcher (the goldilocked Megan Follows) and Tom get back together, sort of. Jim (Paul Winfield), now a free man, hauls bale at the levee, and The Duke (Ned Beatty) is sly as ever. But don't try to follow the murky crime plot. Something about ships' papers. It's incomprehensible.

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