XX "Born to Be Wild," with Wil Horneff, Helen Shaver, Peter Boyle. Directed by John Gray, from a script by Paul Young and John Bunzel. Aurora, Everett 9, Factoria, Grand Cinemas Alderwood, Kent, Metro, Mountlake 9, Puyallup, Renton Village, SeaTac Mall. "PG" - Parental guidance advised, for no compelling reason. ---------------------------------
Filmed mostly in Seattle-Tacoma last summer as "Katie," this Warner Bros. Family Entertainment production was briefly retitled "The Great Gorilla Getaway" before it arrived in theaters yesterday as "Born to Be Wild."
The uncertain tone extends to the script by first-time screenwriters Paul Young and John Bunzel, who can't decide whether they're making a slapstick comedy or an impassioned ecological statement or just a harmless baby-sitter about a teenage boy and his favorite gorilla, a 3-year-old named Katie.
The director, John Gray, who made the TV movies "A Place For Annie" and "Billy Galvin," could use a lesson in timing and crowd control. Most of the comedy is broad and witless; the courtroom confrontations involving several local actors just add up to a lot of milling around.
But Gray and his teenage star, Wil Horneff, are comfortable with the boy-and-his-gorilla stuff, which is cute and engaging. The tear-jerking finale is too much, but Horneff almost earns it. He seems genuinely attached to his co-star, who is sometimes a real gorilla and sometimes a convincingly detailed, radio-controlled animatronic imitation.
A Broadway veteran ("Four Baboons Adoring the Sun") who played the Claude Jarman role in the TV remake of "The Yearling," Horneff is also credibly obnoxious in the opening scenes with his behavioral-scientist mother (Helen Shaver). After he takes a joy ride in her van, and she forces him to clean the gorilla's cage as punishment, he and Katie become pals.
When Katie's insensitive owner (Peter Boyle) tries to reclaim Katie, the two new friends hit the road, outwitting the police and stirring up animal-rights activists. It's all as formulaic as that sounds, but the movie does tap into the same emotions about kids and their cherished new playmates that paid off for "E.T." and "Free Willy."
The following films are also recommended for children and families:
"Adrenaline!" (no rating): This collection of short films about mountain sports is part of the Banff Festival of Mountain Films, at 8 tonight and 3 p.m. tomorrow at the Mountaineers, 300 Third Ave. W. Another Banff program, including "Urban Elk," "Banana Mango Mix II" and "The Last Husky," plays at 8 p.m. tomorrow. (Information: 284-6310.)
"Blue Planet" (no rating): This super-70-millimeter follow-up to "The Dream Is Alive" uses space photography, ground-level camera work, computer animation and underwater photography, and it ends by making an impassioned environmentalist statement. Starting tonight it's playing on a triple bill, Thursday through Sunday nights, with "The Dream Is Alive" and the new IMAX space film, "Destiny in Space." (Pacific Science Center.)
"Far From Home: The Adventures of Yellow Dog" (PG): This boy-and-his-dog adventure might be a revelation for anyone who's never seen a Lassie movie. Realistic scenes of survival in the woods may be a problem for some children. (Alderwood Village.)
"Little Women" (PG): Winona Ryder is radiant as Jo in the best of several film versions of Louisa May Alcott's family classic. (Edmonds, Metro Cinemas.)
"The Secret of Roan Inish" (PG): A magical children's story, set on the Irish seacoast, that requires an audience that listens. The tall tales told in the film are illustrated, sometimes with sly fairy-tale humor, but writer-director John Sayles depends on words to demonstrate what the images mean and how they're generated. A concern for small children's attention spans probably explains the parental-guidance rating. (Alderwood, Everett Mall, Seven Gables.)
"Speed" (no rating): Greg MacGillivray's visually dazzling IMAX movie begins with a caveman discovering the survival value of speed as he chases a deer and is, in turn, chased by a tiger. Images of surfers, skiers and roller-coaster riders are accompanied by subtitles that clock each of their speeds. (Daily matinees at the Omnidome on Pier 59.)
FOR OLDER CHILDREN
"All About Eve" (no rating) and "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane" (no rating): Two Bette Davis classics: a witty 1950 backstage drama and a Gothic 1962 melodrama in which she co-stars with Joan Crawford. (Grand Illusion.)
"The Brady Bunch Movie" (PG-13): If Hollywood must continue to recycle pop culture's past at the expense of fresh ideas, then this big-screen revival of the popular 1970s TV series represents one of the more cleverly knowing blends of slapstick, satire and mock-affectionate homage. Some off-color humor. (Everett 9, Parkway Plaza.)
"Festival of Puppet Animation" (no rating): A collection of films by such stop-motion animation masters as Wladyslaw Starewicz and Ray Harryhausen. (Tonight and tomorrow at 7 and 9 p.m. at Scarecrow Video's Sanctuary Theater.)