Further adventures of Huck and Tom


What reader of "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" can forget Huck's last words to us?

"I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she's going to adopt and sivilize me and I can't stand it. I been there before."

The thought of Huck out there in uncharted territory still having adventures offered a kind of inspiration to some of us who have been all too adopted and sivilized.

But that fantasy -- of Huck Finn forever young and sailing down the Mississippi on a raft -- is going to be a little harder to sustain for some viewers of the Disney Channel's "Back to Hannibal: The Return of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn" at 7 p.m. Sunday.

Producer Hugh Benson decided to make a film about what happened to Tom and Huck after they became adults. His justification was this quote from Mark Twain: "Someday it may seem worthwhile to take up the story of the young ones and see what they turned out to be."

According to this Disney version, Huck turned out to be a reporter on a newspaper in St. Louis, while Tom became a lawyer in Chicago. "Back to Hannibal" picks them up in their early 20s. Once you get past your initial depression over the mainstream end Huck has come to, the film is not without its rewards.

There's some drama. The plot revolves around Jim, the freedman, being charged with the murder of a steamship company executive back in Hannibal. The executive happens to be Becky Thatcher's husband. That's the same Becky Thatcher whom Tom Sawyer was sweet on. Jim runs from Hannibal and shows up in St. Louis asking Huck for help. Huck calls on his old friend, Tom, to defend Jim.

There's some nice acting. Raphael Sbarge as Tom and Mitchell Anderson as Huck are kind of lightweight. But Ned Beatty does a delicious turn as the Duke of Bridgewater. Paul Winfield is fine as Jim. And William Windom seems born to be Judge Thatcher.

The double-edged sword that is going to make some viewers enjoy this production and some denounce it is Samuel Clemens' magnificent book. For lovers of "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," "Return to Hannibal" is going to feel as tinny as "Return to Riverdale," the knuckleheaded reunion of Archie, Jughead and Veronica last year on NBC. Compared to the book, this is a work without resonance.

But on the other hand, I think it is possible for some viewers to love Clemens' characters so much that just seeing these video re-creations of them and their world on the Mississippi will be enough.

And who knows? Some younger viewers just might like the movie enough to go back and read the book and have their imaginations fired with visions of Huck Finn lighting out for the Territory ahead of the rest.

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