American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
A duck lives on top of the Whitneys' refrigerator, and a rooster joins them at breakfast, and there are frogs and dogs here and there in the house. But when Dad brings home a baby seal, their lives really take on a shape and purpose.
They live in a rambling spread up on the hill over the Maine fishing town where Dad is the harbor master, and people talk about them behind their backs. There is a way in which old-timers with Maine accents can say "He's got a seal for a pet" that lets you know they are not simply imparting information.
The saga of the Whitneys is told in "Andre," which is, of course, "based on a true story." Another true story could probably be based on the thoughts of Mom Whitney as she cleans ducky doo off her refrigerator, but it would not be as heartwarming as this one, which is about how Dad (Keith Carradine) and the youngest daughter, Toni (Tina Majorino), cannot turn away the wounded creatures who come to their door. The little seal, for example, all but climbs into the harbor master's boat after losing its mother, and when the Whitneys bottle-feed it and name it Andre, it becomes a member of the family.
That is not to the liking of a local character I began to think of as Billy the Seal-Hater. Played by Keith Szarabajka like the ringleader of a prison riot, Billy is a local fisherman who blames those damned seals for tearing up his nets. At one point he gets so worked up he chases Andre with a pitchfork. He also drinks a lot and makes dire threats in the local diner, where all the locals spend most of their time, discussing each other's business.