Ken Tucker
July 16, 1993 AT 04:00 AM EDT

A gorgeous-looking new version of Heidi (Disney, July 18, 7-9 p.m.; concludes July 19, same time) features a terrific performance in the title role. Noley Thornton is Heidi, orphaned as a baby and raised by her cold, morose grandfather, played here by no one less than Jason Robards. Thornton has a perfect waif’s face, but unlike the most famous movie Heidi-Shirley Temple, from 1937-she doesn’t play the role for dewy-eyed poignancy. This is a plucky Heidi, one who makes the best of things when she is taken from the grandfather whose heart she has melted and placed in the care of a wealthy but emotionally cold family. (Dr. Quinn’s Jane Seymour is wittily dour in her role as a snippy governess.) Johanna Spyri’s 1880 novel has been adapted here by Jeanne Rosenberg (The Journey of Natty Gann), and the Disney Channel has made a mistake by expanding the story to this length-there are long stretches when there is nothing much to look at except the pretty scenery of the Alps. But in addition to Thornton, there is another fine child actress-Lexi Randall (Skylark), as Klara, the rich family’s invalid daughter. When these two are on the screen, Heidi has both tenderness and spunk. B

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