In the 1950s and '60s, she was the curvy Mouseketeer, the girl next door, America's sweetheart and a growing boy's dream date. And although her perky innocence may be out of style, it has never been tarnished by scandal--something of a marvel in the current climate of celebrity tell-all and expose.
So don't expect any dirt to be dished in Sunday's CBS movie, "A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes--the Annette Funicello Story," a glowing valentine to everyone's favorite Mouseketeer, whose happily-ever-after Cinderella story was not supposed to include the multiple sclerosis she fights today.
Powered by unabashed sentiment, nostalgia and some genuinely touching moments, the film is based on Funicello's autobiography. It offers a benign re-creation of the kitschy look and feel of '50s and '60s TV culture, including Mouseketeer dance sequences and sets.
The cast, directed by Bill Corcoran, is fun to watch, particularly Linda Lavin's warm portrayal of Annette's protective mother and Eva LaRue's bewigged chirpiness as the teen-age and adult Annette, in big hair that looks as if gale-force winds couldn't budge it.
Also fun are cameos by Frankie Avalon, Dick Clark and Shelley Fabares as themselves, and Len Cariou's avuncular charm as Walt Disney. None of "Uncle Walt's" alleged darker side colors Funicello's affectionate and grateful remembrance of the generous mentor who made her modest fairy-tale success possible.
Funicello, frail but lovely, appears throughout the film, narrating her story in slightly halting speech through Mouseketeer and "American Bandstand" days, "Beach Party" movies, Skippy peanut butter commercials and real life--first love, marriage, children, divorce, remarriage and the illness that has taken a physical toll but has not quenched her upbeat spirit.
* "A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes--the Annette Funicello Story" airs at 9 p.m. Sunday on CBS (Channel 2).