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‘Little House’ returns to the prairie

Beloved story misses Michael Landon
/ Source: Hollywood Reporter

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s sentimental yet often realistic “Little House on the Prairie” is back with us yet again, this go-round in the form of a miniseries expanded to five weekly episodes on ABC.

While not benefiting from the personal touch of television dynamo Michael Landon, this new venture into the wilderness is a sumptuous-looking production not without its own merits. Never mind the question, After Landon, do we really need another “Little House?”

There are no familiar names in the cast, but the miniseries is something to behold simply in and of itself. Filmed on location in Calgary, Alberta, “Little House” makes full use of the beautiful landscapes posing as the Kansas frontier. At times it looks a bit too picturesque, but its beauty is well worth the view.

The story, taken from Wilder’s frontier tales, has not changed much and retains its good sense of danger, family warmth and American pioneering spirit. It seems, finally, that “Little House” is as enduring on the small screen as it has been on the printed page.

When the story opens, Charles Ingalls (Cameron Bancroft) is growing weary of trying to make ends meet for himself and his family in Wisconsin. The work is strenuous and pays little. So he opts to move his wife (Erin Cottrell) and two daughters, Laura (Kyle Chavarria) and Mary (Danielle Ryan Chuchran), across the rugged plain to Kansas, where he will lay claim to a parcel of land on the prairie and make a new life for them all. Just in case we’ve forgotten, the road to Kansas is perilous, fraught with wild animals, unforgiving weather and a sense of isolation that Charles had not counted on before venturing out.

Of course the story’s beauty comes from young Laura Ingalls’ ability to find adventure and romance in her new terrain, and especially in her fertile imagination. Living an isolated life will take some adjustment, and the story focuses on the details of the family’s hardships until they are able to build something worthwhile for all their pains. Just as the books are uplifting, so too is this second small-screen adaptation.

The cast is believable enough, though the well-trodden frontier adventure puts them through familiar paces. Landon’s spark is all too absent, however, since no “Little House” could be understood apart from his original imprint on the material.