Between the late 1920's and early 1980's, many young readers spent their summer vacations and other free time enthralled by the exploits of a slew of fictional teenaged detectives. Nancy Drew, Frank and Joe Hardy (a.k.a. the Hardy Boys), Trixie Belden, Ken Holt and Judy Bolton were more than characters on a page. They became cultural role models thanks to their intelligence, maturity, impeccable ethics, dedication to friends and family, and courage in solving mysteries that stymied the adults in their respective communities.
The charming A Plumm Summer aims to re-capture the spirit of those adolescent super-sleuths. What makes the movie even more unique, however, is that it is inspired in part by true events that took place in Montana in 1968. Locals were stunned when Froggy Doo, a wisecracking puppet and star of his own children's television show, was kidnapped during a live performance in front of hundreds of his kid-fans. The kidnapping was even reported at the time on the Huntley-Brinkley Report primetime news show.
Director and co-writer Caroline Zelder craftily yet sensitively adapted this unusual story as the basis of Plumm. Zelder and co-writers T. J. Lynch and Frank Antonelli spin an entertaining detective yarn, with 13-year old Elliott Plumm (Chris J. Kelly) and his younger brother Rocky (the delightful Owen Pearce) hot on the trail of Froggy Doo. They are joined in their pursuit by new neighbor Haley (Morgan Flynn), who happens to be a Trixie Belden fan.
Among the list of suspects are Froggy Doo's handler, Happy Herb (Henry Winkler), Herb's possibly unhappy wife (Brenda Strong, the narrator of TV's Desperate Housewives), and even Elliott and Rocky's alcoholic father, Mick (William Baldwin). Others in the strong supporting cast are Peter Scolari (of Bosom Buddies fame) as an FBI agent assigned to the kidnapping case by J. Edgar Hoover himself, and Jeff Daniels as the film's narrator.
Funny and nostalgic, A Plumm Summer (which opens this Friday) will prove particularly satisfying to those kids -- young or old, gay or straight -- who continue to honor those literary teen detectives of yesteryear.
UPDATE: A Plumm Summer is now available on DVDfrom Amazon.com.
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.