Somewhere around the turn of the century, the kid movie was lost. You know what I mean: that breed of film meant just for the eyes and hearts of kids between five and eleven. One that isn’t laced with pop-cultural jabs to satisfy beleaguered parents. One that doesn’t rely on overused fart jokes to score a laugh. That rare, non-animated jewel that used to hold a prominent place on Disney’s once glimmering crown.
A Plumm Summer, based on a true story and getting a better than average DVD release soon (5/5/09), ran the film festival circuit after its 2007 release, earning awards at the Austin and International Family Film Festivals. The movie almost doesn’t belong among the pantheon of cynical kid shows more dependent on obnoxiousness than actual plot or character. In a way, it’s a little past its time, which makes it all the more precious.
In the small town of Billings, Montana in 1968, Elliot Plumm (Chris J. Kelly, aka Chris Massoglia) sits just on the doorstep of adolescence, that awkward realm of time when girls start to take up more space in a young boy’s mind. His little brother Rocky (Owen Pierce) is five, and he hates girls. What Rocky loves, however, is a little marionette frog puppet, the star of the town’s most popular kid’s show—Happy Herb and Froggy Doo.
The community faces disaster when the poor puppet (excuse me—marionette) is frog-napped from backstage during a live show. Elliot and Rocky decide to investigate. With a little help from Haley (Morgan Flynn), the new girl who’s just moved in next door, the trio search the town, and face off against the two FBI agents (Peter Scolari and Rick Overton) sent to investigate the theft.
First-time director Caroline Zelder picked up the story from novice screenwriter and Nicholl Fellowship recipient T.J. Lynch, and polished the final draft with producing partner Frank Antonelli. The script runs entirely on its own gas. Not once does the narrative stumble over a pop-culture crutch, or other ill-advised attempts to push itself into present-day allegory. The narrative, therefore, becomes a model kid movie, made for a kid’s enjoyment, with almost no concern for wooing anyone over the age of 12.
Still, adults will find enough to chew on with their kids at their sides. A Plumm Summer dabbles more in the growing pains of its coming-of-age themes, examining the loss of childlike belief, the cusp of adulthood, and the mantle of fatherhood.
This is not to say the film plays too deep—there’s nothing here that’ll fly over the heads of most kids. Charm gushes from the movie. The narrative tilts its universe in favor of the young, making even a standard robbery investigation akin to the level of a missing person, fraught with all the risk, peril and twists common to those old Disney adventures.
For a cast comprised of children and teens, the delivery hits the mark more than it fumbles. Morgan Flynn has a natural likeability that rises to the surface early in the film, and little Owen Pierce has claimed a prominent spot on the cute pedestal. He embodies the raw, innocent enthusiasm that only five-year-olds can muster, and does so with such empathy that it will force adults to recollect that long forgotten age.
The film trips just a little over some of its dialog. Script development could have used a little tweaking to unearth the deeper richness that sits under this movie, though it helps that Zelder has assembled a strong adult cast, whose talents help supplement the minor flaws.
Among the more familiar faces, you’ll find William Baldwin (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) as Elliot and Rocky’s washed-up dad, Mick. Veteran TV talents round out the cast as well, including Lisa Guerrero (Sunset Beach) taking a fine turn as Roxie Plumm, with the always-reliable Henry Winkler as the childlike entertainer Herb McAllister, and Brenda Strong (Desperate Housewives) as Herb’s wife and showbiz partner.
Special features include deleted scenes, a gag reel, an insightful commentary from director Zelder and producer Antonelli, and a theatrical trailer. Though a small feature detailing the actual events the film portrays would have been nice, an attached feature covering the red carpet at the film’s premiere does provide some insight. Herb McAllister created Froggy Doo in 1955, and enjoyed a successful 22-year career as an entertainer. Details about McAllister, and the actual frog-napping, can be found here.
At 99 minutes, A Plumm Summer holds attention for just the right length. It makes a safe, solid pick to fill a little kid’s movie night, and might even inspire a chance for parents to recall the oft-ignored memories of childhood that tether them to their kids.