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Movie review of The Basket

The Basket would have made a great ABC After-School Special.

It teaches important lessons, and it has a big heart - too big, actually, for most adults to stomach.

But adults are clearly not the target audience here, and parents weary of commercials masquerading as animated adventures might find the slowly paced morality tale refreshing.

"The Basket" centers on Helmut and his sister, Brigitta, two German children orphaned during World War I and sent to live with a preacher in Spokane, Wash.

But they receive less than a warm welcome from their new neighbors, especially Nicholas Emery (Jock MacDonald), whose son lost a leg in the war and is slowly dying.

Enter Martin Conlon (Peter Coyote), the town's new teacher and a basketball whiz who studied under James Naismith himself.

Mr. Conlon takes Helmut under his wing and gives him round-ball fever. Soon, Helmut is tossing anything he can find into any basket he can find.

When Mr. Conlon hears about the local pro team, the Spokane Spartans, their 70-0 record and the $500 purse for anyone who can beat them, he hatches a plan. (Conveniently enough, the local farmers need $500 for the down-payment on a new harvester.) And you can guess where it goes from there.

Still, there are a few surprises along the way, and Mr. Coyote delivers a strong, understated performance.

And sure, director Rich Cowan's heart is on his sleeve, but that doesn't detract from the fun of pretending that you're watching the birth of the zone defense.

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