Hitting all the right notes

March 29, 1991|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

"Perfect Harmony" is not a perfect picture. But it is television doing good work and doing it pretty well.

The made-for-TV movie, which premieres at 7 p.m. Sunday on the Disney cable channel, is about race relations in South Carolina. That's a big and challenging topic, and this Disney production is generally up to it.

"Perfect Harmony" is set at an all-white boy's prep school, the Blanton Academy. Blanton is known worldwide for its choir and its ability to develop the "men who will uphold our values," in the words of its headmaster, Roland Hobbs (Darren McGavin).

Those values and how they are instilled in adolescents is mostly what this film is about. The person doing most of the instilling is the new choir director, Derek Sanders (Peter Scolari).

The cameras zero in on three boys, two white and one black. The white boys are the star students at Blanton. The black boy works at the academy in a variety of maintenance and service jobs -- cutting grass, shining shoes, busing tables.

Ultimately, one of the white boys, Taylor Bradshaw (Justin Whalen), and the black boy, Landy Allen (Eugene Byrd), become interested in each others' music. Landy wants to learn more about the western European tradition; Taylor becomes fascinated by the blues and its African roots. Out of their interests comes friendship.

It sounds simple. And, at times, the film has the feel of a morality play, where one-dimensional characters representing singular virtues or vices are more important than fully developed individuals. It stumbles in some of its stereotypes of white Southern attitudes and action.

But, overall, this is a smart piece of television, saying some wise things about music, brotherhood and the differences between the oral and print traditions and cultures.

What makes "Perfect Harmony" better than just smart, though, is its attempt to engage teen-agers with a good story and then, once it has their attention, to introduce that young audience to values of tolerance and respect for ethnic diversity.

"Perfect Harmony" has good acting. It has lots of very good music. But most of all, this is a movie with a vision and heart.

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