Disney's `Little Kidnappers' Is Sure To Grab You

If it's new movies you want on TV this weekend, you'll have to turn to cable which has some unusual offerings, although the best of the lot - Disney's ``The Little Kidnappers'' - could hardly be more traditional.

The other two ``movies'' are actually six short, self-contained films, three of which make up HBO's ``Women & Men: Stories of Seduction,'' while the other three comprise Showtime's ``The 30-Minute Movie.''

If ``The Little Kidnappers'' sounds familiar, it may be you recall Philip Leacock's 1953 movie version, based on a children's story. Coralee Testar has based her script on both the story and the earlier movie. In case you've forgotten, it's about two small orphaned boys who come across a baby on a beach and feeling this ``orphan'' must feel as neglected as they do, they decide to keep it in their own secret cave.

The story is set in Nova Scotia at the turn of the century and part of the plot revolves around the ill-feeling that still remains between Scottish and Dutch settlers, a result of the Boer War in South Africa a few years previously.

The boys' father was killed in that war and, after the death of their mother, they're sent to Canada to live with their grandparents. While Grandmother MacKenzie (played lovingly by Patricia Gage) is everything a grandmother should be, Grandfather MacKenzie (played by Charlton Heston) is stern, unrelenting and forbidding. His word is law and he is ill at ease with his new grandchildren. Also living in the MacKenzie house is pretty young Kirsten, the boys' aunt (Leah Pinsent), and her love life is nil since the only eligible bachelor for miles around appears to be a young doctor, Willem, a Dutchman, played by Bruce Greenwood, whom Kirsten's father hates.

While much of what happens in ``The Little Kidnappers'' is predictable - there's never any doubt that eventually the grandfather's hard heart will soften and that Kirsten and Willem will fall in love and receive his blessing - what makes it so enjoyable are the completely unself-conscious performances by Leo Wheatley and Charles Miller, as Harry and Davy MacKenzie.

They are both completely irresistible - by turns funny and charming and serious - that one can almost become impatient with the scenes detailing the grownups' problems. Harry is supposed to be 8 and Wheatley gives him a wonderful sense of knowing exactly what he's doing - even when he doesn't. Young Master Miller makes David, aged 5, completely trusting of his older brother. When the two are discussing raising a baby, the scenes are priceless.

The adults do good work under Donald Shebib's low-key direction. Heston plays Grandfather in a nicely subdued fashion that meshes with the rest of the characters, never trying for a star turn. Gage and Pinsent gracefully portray women of another time. Greenwood, too, turns in a nicely subdued performance.

But it's Harry and Davy you'll remember. If they truly were orphans, they'd have millions of eager would-parents from whom to choose.

``The Little Kidnappers,'' filmed in Nova Scotia, is very much in the same vein as the filmed-in-Canada ``Anne of Green Gables'' dramas, a Disney-CBC co-production and surely a good bet eventually for PBS' ``Wonderworks.'' It premieres at 7 tonight, with repeats tomorrow (2:15 a.m.), Thursday and Aug. 27.

Trios: HBO's three-part ``Women & Men'' has stars and uses stories by famous writers - Mary McCarthy's ``The Man in the Brooks Brothers Shirt,'' Dorothy Parker's ``Dusk Before Fireworks'' and Ernest Hemingway's ``Hills Like White Elephants,'' as well as famed directors: Frederic Raphael directed the first film, Ken Russell the second and Tony Richardson the last.

The productions are posh and everything is slickly done but the net result is somewhat stilted. The most successful is probably the Hemingway story, as James Woods and Melanie Griffith play one of those familiar, miserable Hemingway couples who attempt to communicate in cryptic sentences. If you're a Hemingway fan, you'll probably enjoy ``Hills Like White Elephants.'' If you're not - and I'm among those - it may strike you as silly and tiresome.

McCarthy's story of a romantic liason aboard a transcontinental train was probably terribly chic in its time but its smart-set dialogue and banter has lost its sizzle. What saves this segment is the rapport between Elizabeth McGovern and Beau Bridges - she's the Bohemian magazine writer and he's the unhappily married man. McGovern holds your attention as she seems to savor the dichotomy of her character.

The third story is really dated - it concerns a meeting between a gigolo (Peter Weller) and the Sweet Young Thing (Molly Ringwald) who thinks she loves him. As a piece of Roaring Twenties kitsch, it would have its moments, but everything about this short movie - clothes, decor, dialogue, attitudes - vacillates between the 1920s and '30s and both actors are wrong for the roles.

``Women & Men,'' which premieres at 9 p.m. Sunday, will be repeated Tuesday, Thursday and Aug. 25, 27 and 29 and Sept. 13.

Showtime's ``30-Minute Movies'' debuts at the same time Sunday and its stories are more involving for a contemporary audience. ``Conquering Space,'' directed by Mark Stratton, is an affecting slice-of-life look at the family of a 16-year-old girl growing up in the 1950s. The details are all perfect and so are the characterizations. ``Conquering Space'' has an ``American Graffiti'' quality about it.

``12:01 PM'' is a fantasy movie that would have been right at home on ``The Twilight Zone.'' Kurtwood Smith plays a man who discovers he must live a certain hour of his life over and over and over ad infinitum. The pace and the tension increase and he attempts to escape from this fate.

``To the Moon, Alice'' is almost terrific but can't seem to make up its mind whether it wants to be serious or have fun with its basic concept: A homeless family in L.A. sneaks into a TV studio at night to live in the fake house constructed for a popular sitcom. Good performances but a weak script nullifies a basically interesting premise.

While all three movies will be in succession at 9 p.m. on Showtime, after that each film will be shown on its own at various times.

Video notes: Steve Martin and Rick Moranis promote their new movie, ``My Blue Heaven,'' when they appear on ``The Arsenio Hall Show'' tonight at 10 on KCPQ-TV. . . . KTPS-TV airs that touching PBS special, ``Sesame Street Remembers Joe Raposo,'' tonight at 8. . . . CBS airs an unsold pilot based on the movie ``Steel Magnolias'' tonight at 9:30 on KIRO-TV. . . . That classic 1969 documentary, ``Salesman,'' by Albert and David Maysles, comes to TV tonight when it airs on PBS' ``P.O.V.'' series at 10 on KCTS-TV. . . . Cable's Arts & Entertainment premieres a new two-hour British TV drama, ``Act of Betrayal,'' starring Elliott Gould, tonight at 6 and 10. . . . ``Words on Fire,'' this week's ``Alive from Off Center'' segment airing at 11:30 tonight on KCTS-TV, explores the power of the written word.

John Voorhees' column appears daily in The Times.