Disney plunges into 'PG' filmmaking with 'Splash'

After years of trying to broaden its audience with little success, Walt Disney Productions is probably wise to drop the Disney label from its more PG-type projects.

Like the G rating, though with less justification, the Walt Disney name has come to suggest not just wholesomeness but childishness - and that's a major liability when it comes to attracting teens and young adults. The new Touchstone logo will signal that parental guidance is called for, and let nonkiddie viewers know they're safe from kiddie fare. It may also give the Disney studio more leeway in approaching subjects that call for audience maturity without being vulgar or offensive.

''Splash,'' the first Touchstone release, earns its PG with rough language, fleeting nudity, and sexual innuendo. Yet its basic values are Disneyesque all the way - with lots of plugs for home and family, and a hero who wants only to ''love someone, get married, have a kid, and watch him play a tooth in the school play.''

And the main character is a mermaid - as ideal a Disney subject as flying elephants or talking mice. When our hero falls into the ocean, she falls in love with him, and follows him to his New York home. The sad part is that mermaids have only seven days to spend on land, which doesn't leave much time for that happy marriage. And there's a crazy oceanographer on her trail, determined to prove his theory that mermaids aren't just fairy tales.

The story has ups and downs, but director Ron Howard has a bottomless bag of clever sight gags and a good eye for goofy character details. Add a batch of very strong performances and some hilarious plot twists - how would a mermaid talk after learning English from afternoon TV? - and you have a promising debut for the new Touchstone venture.

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