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NEVER CRY WOLF. Directed by Carroll Ballard; written by Curtis Hanson, Sam Hamm and Richard Kletter; produced by Ron Miller for Walt Disney Pictures. Starring Charles Martin Smith and Brian Dennehy. Rated PG.


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"Throw him to the wolves!" People say that when they really want to be nasty. The hero of Never Cry Wolf is thrown to the wolves, in a matter of speaking. But he finds that it's not such a terrible fate. Besides learning about wolves, he also learns a lot about himself in this beautiful, fascinating and unusual movie.

Tyler (Smith) is a biologist who volunteers to spend six months studying wolves in Alaska. In the course of his study he moves from a fear of his subjects to admiration and affection for them. The first time a wolf's howl is heard on the soundtrack, it fills Tyler (and us) with dread. But it's not long before the howls sound like music to his, and our, ears.

There is a good deal of humor in Never Cry Wolf, which is a pleasant surprise in a "nature" movie. Tyler is a funny, sympathetic and completely real character. He is what makes the movie so much more entertaining than the National Geographic special it visually resembles.

You can still see a little of Terry the Toad in Smith (this was the nerdy character he played in American Graffiti). But Tyler is mature and considerably more intelligent. He is also naive and vulnerable, though; it's easy to identify with him. Since for most of the movie Tyler is the only human on-screen, the casting of that part is crucial. The producers really hit the jackpot with Smith.

One would expect a movie about the Arctic wilderness to have gorgeous scenery, and this one does. But there are very important issues involved here as well. Never Cry Wolf is a good consciousness-raiser. Nature and its creatures are portrayed in a realistic way, sympathetically but not sentimentally. As much as Tyler comes to appreciate and even resemble the wolves, he finds he cannot completely understand or protect them.

Never Cry Wolf is a great movie for parents and children to see together. Younger children won't get the message of the movie, but they still will enjoy seeing the animals.

Terry the Toad isn't the only one who shows he's grown up in this movie, though. Walt Disney Pictures has, too. There is nothing in Never Cry Wolf that condescends or over-simplifies for its audience. Other studios have been making the best kids' movies for years now. With Never Cry Wolf Disney may begin to regain the prominence it once held in this very difficult field.

November 23, 1983

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