For parents of younger kids, the best thing to come out of television this season is the revival of "The Wonderful World of Disney."
Increasingly, prime-time network television is something parents ought to have their children avoid. It's not so much the violence, which has actually decreased in recent years. But seemingly every show - including sitcoms of all variety - is loaded with sexual innuendo and vulgarity.And the few remaining shows that are more-or-less intended for the younger set - from "Family Matters" to "Meego" to "Boy Meets World" to "You Wish" - are generally so silly and ridiculous that adults can't sit through them.
Not so "The Wonderful World of Disney." Of the four made-for-TV movies the franchise has presented to this point, all were not only appropriate for kids but enjoyable for adults.
The quality has ranged from pretty good to outright excellent. "Tower of Terror" and "Angels in the Endzone" were most obviously aimed at kids but were still cute and watchable for the grownups. "Toothless" was a treat for both children and their parents alike. And "Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella" was just great.
(The non-TV movies on "The Wonderful World of Disney" have also been above average, ranging from the TV debut of "Toy Story" to the very good made-for-cable movie "Sabrina the Teenage Witch" to the decent straight-to-video sequel "Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves.")
At my house, we're not watching on Sunday evenings - but that's only because TV critics are sent videotapes of the Disney movies before they air. And my kids (10-year-old Amanda and 6-year-old twins Jonathon and Hillary) consider it a real treat to sit down with Dad to watch the Disney movies. They even ask - with sometimes annoying frequency - if there isn't another one we can watch.
To be perfectly honest, I was somewhat unsure whether they'd be interested in this week's Disney offering, "Oliver Twist" (Sunday, 6 p.m., ABC/Ch. 4). The main character in Dickens' tale is, of course, a child. But the setting (bleak London of the early 19th century) and the fact that it's not animated made me wonder if the children - particularly the 6-year-olds - wouldn't get bored.
I shouldn't have worried. They were as entranced as their elderly (37) father.
Dickens' tale of an orphan boy (played by Alex Trench) who is born in a work house, suffers terrible deprivation and is thrown out on the street just as he turns 12 is almost magical. And a big part of that magic is Richard Dreyfuss, who does a wonderful turn as Fagin.
It may take a moment to recognize the fact that Dreyfuss is Fagin - his makeup includes a huge nose, and he not only employs an English accent but an unusual pitch to his voice.
Oliver, of course, is recruited by the Artful Dodger (Elijah Wood), a young master-pickpocket, to join Fagin's gang of young thieves. And while he's looking for the family he never knew, Oliver has nowhere else to go.
It's a oddly dysfunctional family, but it is a family nonetheless. And young Oliver remains true to the motto engraved on his only possession, a locket - "Goodness is rewarded."
"Oliver Twist" has its bad guy - the evil Bill Sikes (David O'Hara) - its unbelievable coincidences and plenty of action and suspense.
The performances are all good. And when you consider that this is 10-year-old Trench's first-ever acting job, his is pretty amazing.
There is some degree of violence, but it's handled with discretion. And the violent death of a sympathetic character isn't ignored, but it is handled in a way that won't frighten young children.
And how much did the Pierce childen enjoy "Oliver Twist?" Well, when Dad had to take care of something in the middle of the movie and suggested a cookie break, the kids allowed as how they'd just as soon finish watching the show and eat their cookies afterward.
You can't get a much higher recommendation than that.