'Retrievers' Is Worth the Fetch

Original movies are few and far between on Animal Planet, but the network has come up with a warm-hearted winner in The Retrievers.

The warm-and-fuzzy flick opens with a young family headed for small-town life in Placerville, Calif., about which Tom Lowry (Airplane's Robert Hays) observes, "You don't see towns like this anymore."

Lowry is a big-name ad-agency creative director who, along with his wife Karen — played by Mel Harris (thirtysomething) — grew tired of the Madison Avenue rat race. He's joined a small agency, only to learn that it has parlayed his fame to land a big-bucks client — which puts him under stress once again.

The couple's teenaged daughter Liz (Alana Austin) and 11-year-old son Widdy (Taylor Emerson) hate their new surroundings, until a golden retriever enters their lives. Widdy names the dog Pilot, since it had earlier taken their father's Palm Pilot.

Soon after, the family must cope with Pilot's litter of six mischievous puppies. Barely a half-hour into the story, a stressed-out Tom decides to give the newborns away.

Liz and Widdy are the most upset as a strange assortment of people comes to take the retrievers — ranging from Betty White as the indecisive Mrs. Krisper to two oddball pizza-delivery boys.

After both Pilot and the Lowry family quickly fall into depression over the puppies, the youngsters suggest tracking down the new owners.

Here's where the movie's title takes on new meaning, as the Lowrys retrieve the puppies. Since they didn't pay much attention at the time of the transfers, they must become detectives, following up on the little kernels of information they could recall.

Along the way, they find that some of the pups have been mistreated and one has died. The last one is found wandering in a lumberyard — a ploy by the producers to ratchet up excitement.

When Tom puts his search for the pups above his job, he is fired by his new agency, whose boss (Alan Rachins of L.A. Law
) is disappointed that Tom's campaign ideas for Haysworth Courier aren't "dazzling" billionaire Durham Haysworth, played by Robert Wagner (Hart to Hart).

Only after he's relieved of the stress of his new job does Tom create a campaign idea that excites Haysworth — an idea that involves Pilot.

Kudos go to the family-appeal drama's producers, Steve Austin and Jonathan Bogner; director Paul Schneider; writer Larry Ketron; and casting directors Donald Paul Pemrick and Dean Fronk.

Animal Planet's The Retrievers
will bow on July 30 at 8 p.m.