Entertainment


Mara Wilson A Delight In ‘A Simple Wish’

At 9, Mara Wilson has already been named a Star of Tomorrow by the National Association of Theatre Owners. “Star of Today” is more like it: Mara has stolen practically all her big-screen pictures, and she does it again with “A Simple Wish.”

Giving a gracefully understated performance in the face of caricatures from Martin Short and Kathleen Turner, Wilson is a delight. Even though Wish and her previous two films, “Miracle on 34th Street” and “Matilda,” were supernatural fantasies, Wilson comes up with a fresh approach every time.

Here, she and Francis Capra (of “Kazaam”) play Anabel and Charlie, the feisty children of a frustrated singer (Robert Pastorelli) who longs for a break on Broadway. Meanwhile, just across town in the realm of make-believe, a nice but bumbling imp named Murray (Short) has somehow wound up in a class for fairy godmothers-in-training; guess the fairy godfathers’ ranks must have been overcrowded.

So when Anabel longs for the interference of a fairy godmother, Murray comes stumbling to her rescue. He misses an important convention of the North American Fairy Godmothers Association to visit the little girl, and in his absence, an outcast named Claudia (Turner) invades the gathering, incapacitates the boss fairy godmother (Ruby Dee), and steals an arsenal of magic wands.

Murray and Anabel must now thwart Claudia’s bid for world domination - hardly the sort of task Murray is cut out for. For instance, when attempting to conjure a rabbit, he produces a rabbi.

Jeff Rothberg’s screenplay is a small marvel of combined silliness and urgency - qualities reflected in the warring supernatural beings. Short seems at once laughable and heroic - an utterly earnest practitioner of benevolent magic beneath the orange fright-wig and goofy demeanor. Turner uses every trick in the book to give Claudia some motives deeper than mere wickedness; a deep current of melancholy courses beneath all that fiendish glee.

In the supporting ranks, “Pulp Fiction’s” Amanda Plummer gives an endearingly preposterous performance as a doglike servant to Turner. The distinguished Ruby Dee gets to be the movie’s neatest special effect, when - but that would be telling.

Wilson’s level-headed approach keeps things on an even keel, and veteran director Michael Ritchie uses this matter-of-fact viewpoint to sustain a mingled sense of wonder and reason. If you’ll only believe in magic, the movie says, then magic will happen. Any other questions?

MEMO: These sidebars appeared with the story: “A SIMPLE WISH” Location: East Sprague, Lyons and Showboat Credits: Directed by Michael Ritchie, starring Martin Short, Mara Wilson, Kathleen Turner, Ruby Dee Running time: 1:48 Rating: PG

OTHER VIEW Here’s what another critics says about “A Simple Wish:” Michael Rechtshaffen/The Hollywood Reporter: Martin Short faces more problems than he can shake his wand at as Murray the Fairy Godmother in “A Simple Wish.” A serviceable family fantasy, this film throws in enough whimsical touches to make up for uninspired plotting, but it’s unlikely its box office wishes will be granted.

These sidebars appeared with the story: “A SIMPLE WISH” Location: East Sprague, Lyons and Showboat Credits: Directed by Michael Ritchie, starring Martin Short, Mara Wilson, Kathleen Turner, Ruby Dee Running time: 1:48 Rating: PG

OTHER VIEW Here’s what another critics says about “A Simple Wish:” Michael Rechtshaffen/The Hollywood Reporter: Martin Short faces more problems than he can shake his wand at as Murray the Fairy Godmother in “A Simple Wish.” A serviceable family fantasy, this film throws in enough whimsical touches to make up for uninspired plotting, but it’s unlikely its box office wishes will be granted.



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