The new "ABC Kids Movie Matinee" earns points for not being yet another "action" (a euphemism for "violent") children's show, but the first offering in this series of original feature-length movies for children--an animated, musical version of Frances Hodgson Burnett's classic novel "The Secret Garden"--loses points for turning out to be just another Saturday morning cartoon.
A top cast provides the voices--Honor Blackman, Derek Jacobi and Glynis Johns among them--and there is some handsome background art, but that's where most of the show's virtues end.
The animation is choppy, skimpy and bland. The songs, by Harriet Schock and Misha Segal, about finding home, plants and talking to animals Dr. Doolittle-style, are sugary and melodically forgettable.
Worse, although the story's emphasis on child- and nature-nurturing remains, any viewer who gets to the book later will be surprised at the differences.
Liberties that writer Libby Hinson has taken with Burnett's classic include turning the stern, unsympathetic housekeeper, Mrs. Medlock, into an evil-minded villain with murderous intentions toward Mr. Craven's invalid son, and inventing save-the-day roles for a Disney-type talking cat and robin.
* "The Secret Garden" airs Saturday at 10:30 a.m. on ABC (Channels 7, 3 and 10).