Children’s author Beverly Cleary, now celebrating her 100th birthday, is best known and loved today for chronicling the adventures of the Quimby sisters, rambunctious Ramona and her more judicious older sibling Beezus, not to mention their neighborhood friend, Henry Huggins, and his canine sidekick, Ribsy. But Cleary wrote more than just one Ramona book after another during her long career. In 1965, for instance, she penned The Mouse And The Motorcycle, a fanciful novel about a thrill-seeking rodent named Ralph who dwells within a decaying hotel called the Mountain View Inn and befriends one of its young guests, Keith, risking his own life in the process. The title comes from Ralph’s zippy excursions through the hallways on Keith’s toy motorcycle. Never quite as popular as the Quimbys, Ralph did get two late-arriving sequels in 1970 and 1982, respectively.
Best of all, in 1986, the ABC television network adapted the original Ralph novel, The Mouse And The Motorcycle, into an hour-long installment of its fondly remembered, long-running Saturday morning series, ABC Weekend Specials. Helmed by super-prolific, still-in-demand TV director Ron Underwood, whose recent credits include Once Upon A Time and Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., the television version of Motorcycle combines live action (for the humans) with stop motion (for the mice). Since this is a mid-1980s television production, viewers should not expect anything as elaborate as, say, Wes Anderson’s fanciful Fantastic Mr. Fox, but Underwood’s adaptation has an understated charm all its own and is quite attractively filmed. The cast is dotted with familiar faces: Ray Walston, Mimi Kennedy (lately of Mom), funnyman John Byner, Mary Jo Catlett (of Serial Mom), and once-ubiquitous TV pitchman Thom Sharp. The voices of the mice are provided by notables, too, including Billy Barty (of UHF) and Zelda Rubenstein (of Poltergeist). Those looking for a gateway into Cleary’s non-Beezus-related work are advised to start here.