on October 10, 1997 by Dale Winogura
   Occasionally charming and endearing family fare, "Napoleon" is a fairly diverting live-action fantasy, fatally damaged by a stop-and-go narrative and a plain, straightforward visual style that misses the essential magic and imagination. There is much that's clever and creative in Mario Andreacchio's direction, but he tends to cross the line from childlike innocence into infantile pablum.
   The story, which Andreacchio co-scripts, concerns a curious puppy (voiceover by Jamie Croft) who calls himself Napoleon drifts away from home in a balloon-driven basket and experiences both harrowing and amusing adventures in the Australian wilds. Friendly companions on the quest include a wise-cracking parrot, a smartass koala bear and a comical penguin (Casey Siemaszko). The main danger is posed by an evil wild cat (a crafty Carole Skinner) who keeps pursuing Napoleon, but nature's hardships also prevent the puppy from finding fulfillment in the great outdoors, so he decides to head back home with the help of a wild adult dog.
   The animals are adorable, besides being well trained, but they have more cuteness than character. A few extraneous songs by Bill Conti and Mark Saltzman (who also co-scripts) needlessly turn the movie into a musical, but the singing choruses of birds and rabbits are just about the most priceless bits of humor here. For the intrepid child in everyone, "Napoleon" is too much like a lengthened novelty short to work entirely, without the pace and momentum to sustain it through arid stretches. Made in 1994, before Chris Noonan's superior "Babe," "Napoleon" doesn't rank with the best of the talking-animal movies, but there have been worse.    Voices by Jamie Croft, Carole Skinner and Casey Siemaszko. Directed by Mario Andreacchio. Written by Michael Bourchier, Mario Andreacchio and Mark Saltzman. Produced by Michael Bourchier and Mario Andreacchio. An MGM/Goldwyn release. Adventure. Rated G. Running time: 82 min.
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