Ken Tucker
April 22, 1994 AT 04:00 AM EDT

You couldn’t ask for a TV movie that endorses family values more fervently than The Yearling, a new version of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ much-loved novel. Too bad this well-intentioned production proves so thuddingly dull. Peter Strauss and Designing Women‘s Jean Smart star as poor Florida settlers in the 1930s. They have a young teenage son, Jody (Wil Horneff), who makes a pet of an orphaned fawn. The Yearling is all about the Baxter family’s rough life and Jody’s gradual loss of innocence. Like the 1946 movie of this story, featuring Gregory Peck and Jane Wyman, the new Yearling has been photographed with a lyrical beauty that belies its themes of difficulty and sacrifice. Strauss and Smart give one-note performances-he’s always gruff and noble; she’s always sad and grim-and all the actors sound awkward chewing their way through rural portentousness like, ”I just crave peace, is all,” and, ”Paw, am I a man now?” It’s easier to read lines like those than hear them ring false on TV.

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