It may be set in the mid-18th Century, but The Whipping Boy--based on Sid Fleischman's 1986 Newbery Award-winning novella of the same name--says a lot about today's relationships between family and friends.
A new Disney Channel movie follows the adventures of two boys, the spoiled Prince Horace (Nic Knight) and the rat catcher turned "whipping boy," Jemmy (Truan Munro).
Set in the fictitious European country of Brattenburg, the orphaned Jemmy finds himself selected as Horace's whipping boy: When Horace is naughty, it's Jemmy who receives his punishment.
It doesn't take long for the boys to find that they have more in common than misplaced discipline. Both boys have lost their mothers and have had little parenting.
It certainly sounds like a modern tale: A father's work (here, Horace's dad is a king) keeps him not only from spending quality time with his child, but barely any time at all.
"In its way, the movie is about a single-parent household," says producer Phil Fehrle. "Its most important message is that even if a parent makes sure the child has the best of everything, the child has nothing without a parent."
Parental responsibility is vital, agrees actor Vince Schiavelli, who plays a bumbling baddie in "The Whipping Boy."
"My 6-year-old understood about the father, the king. He said, 'Gee Papa, he keeps making promises to his boy that he can't keep.' I'm not a family values fanatic myself, but this one definitely is good family fare. Its values are very straight and honest and important."
With its variations on "The Prince and the Pauper" and "Trading Places," Fehrle says, "It's really a charming story about friendship."
The movie, Schiavelli points out, "draws an audience by its sense of humor. It also doesn't speak down to kids."
The film's rich, theatrical look and the Dickensian feel was intentional, says Fehrle. "The original book, while set a century before Dickens, had some definite resonance of that later era and the film reflects that."
"The Whipping Boy" airs Sunday at 7 p.m. on the Disney Channel. For ages 6 and up.
More Family Shows
With his sofa turned racing car, host Scott Herriott drives to Walt Disney World Inside Out (Tuesday 8:30 p.m. Disney). For "Part 3" of the monthly series, Harriott focuses on the All-Star Sports Resort and visits the Disney-MGM Studios Muppet Theater, where he interviews Kermit the Frog about Muppet Vision 3-D. He also goes to the tennis and golf areas and the Typhoon Lagoon, where he plays sports announcer for the Hydroman triathlon with George Foreman demonstrating. There's also fireworks, complete with an explanation of how it all works by an expert. For ages 5 and up.
They may not be everyone's cup of tea, but many kids love that dynamic duo of Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin. In Scared Stiff (Friday 8 p.m. Family Channel), the buddies are teamed up as Larry Dodd (Martin) and Myron Mertz (Lewis), who, on the lam from New York mobsters, find themselves in a haunted castle on an island off Cuba. Lizabeth Scott and Dorothy Malone also star in this 1953 remake of Bob Hope's 1940 "Ghost Breakers." For ages 6 and up.
Attention all who love late-nights! It's time to burn some candles and sit around the television. The Midnight Society holds an extra-long meeting this Saturday, with five back-to-back episodes of Are You Afraid of the Dark? (9:30 p.m. to midnight Nickelodeon) to creep you out this weekend. Special segments in which Midnight Society members appear highlight the shows. Nick also will flash an 800 number on the screen that viewers can call to win 1,000 home videos and 1,000 audiocassettes based on the series. For ages 10 and up.