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DVD Review: Nancy Drew

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Nancy Drew is one of those iconic heroes kids who read tend to grow up with. I know I shared several of her adventures (read on the sly because I’m a guy) when I was younger. I read the Hardy Boys out in the public eye, along with the adventures of Tom Swift, Jr., Ken Holt, and Rick Brant.

But Nancy’s adventures were always somehow more mysterious and more fun. They concentrated on the twists and the turns of the mystery, and the secrets of the suspects that Nancy had to ferret out. Although created by the Edward Stratemeyer Syndicate (as were the Hardy Boys, the Rover Boys, Tom Swift, Sr. and Jr., and the Dana Girls), most of Nancy’s adventures were penned by Mildred Wirt Benson under the house name Carolyn Keene. Benson wrote some of the best Nancy Drew mysteries ever printed (23 of the first 25).

The first books came out in 1930, and movies swiftly followed due to public familiarity and interest in seeing the character on the big screen. Four Nancy Drew movies appeared in the late 1930s. In the 1970s, a television series starring Pamela Sue Martin as Nancy Drew came out. The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries became a hit and ran from 1977 to 1979. Television tried Nancy Drew as a series again in 1995, and a made-for-TV movie with Nancy in college came out in 2002.

Nancy Drew remains a solid sales force in video games. Based on her book adventures, the video games offer players a chance to point and click clues to solve mysteries. So far, 19 video games have come out from Her Interactive Inc. A new game was also made for the Nintendo DS game system.

Making a new movie about Nancy Drew seems almost a no-brainer. Warner Bros., the original studio that made Nancy Drew movies, returned to bring the new movie to life.

Directed by Andrew Fleming, the film is a delight for family night. Instead of having Nancy in her element in her hometown, she’s thrown into wild and woolly Los Angeles where she’s a fish out of water. She keeps a lot of the old-fashioned sense and sensibility from the original series, which makes her seem like a goof in modern times, and I have to admit that I wasn’t entirely won over by the treatment. In fact, if it hadn’t been for the sheer likeability of young Emma Roberts (father Eric Roberts and aunt Julia), I wouldn’t have bought into the representation of Nancy.

What I ultimately ended up doing is filing away my preconceived imaginings of Nancy Drew and embracing this version. I no longer thought of her as the Nancy Drew I grew up with, but more like a granddaughter of the original series heroine who hasn’t quite come into her own yet.

The Nancy Drew in this film isn’t quite finished, but I loved the pluck and drive of Miss Roberts’ presentation and thought she was fabulous.

There’s actually a lot going on in the film. I think that too much of it actually extends beyond the scope of the mystery and that made the personal plots as well as the crime solving fall apart at times. We see that Nancy is an overachiever and that she doesn’t fit in with the L.A. girls, but that subplot kind of staggers along till it solves itself (with the arrival of Ned Nickerson, played by Max Thieriot). Likewise, the mystery gets torn up by Nancy’s efforts to be “normal” and make her dad happy.

I would have preferred the movie focus on the mystery and the subplots to have branched out of that. Still, there were comedic moments provided by those subplots that were enjoyable and made the film move quickly.

Since Nancy got to pick the house that she and her father live at while in L.A., she chose one with a mystery. A Hollywood actress went missing for five months and was later, after her return, found dead in her pool while at her party. The murder was never solved, and that draws Nancy’s sleuth senses into overdrive.

I liked the mysterious clues, the secret passageways, and the riddles and clues that eventually lead Nancy to the solution of the murder. The film contains enough narrow escapes, chases, and threatening phone calls to keep every young detective (and mystery-loving parents) interested.

Josh Flitter plays Corky, a pre-adolescent, would-be rapper Lothario who absolutely steals the show at times. He was one of the primary ingredients that kept reminding me this was not the Nancy Drew I grew up with, but I couldn’t help but laugh out loud at his antics. His sense of timing and delivery is awesome, and I’ve just found out he’s going to be in the starring role of Ace Ventura, Jr..

Bruce Willis has an uncredited cameo in the film that’s funny to watch. But, again, it’s one of those things that really detracts from the overall mystery. Nancy’s adventures in the novels, especially the early ones, focused tightly on the pursuit of the solution.

My ten-year-old had seen Nancy Drew books in the school library, but we haven’t read any of them yet. The movie hooked him and he sat with his mom and me to watch the whole film. He had a blast, so I can recommend this film to parents with kids wholeheartedly because he can be a tough audience.

I had a great time with Nancy Drew, and I think Emma Roberts will win over readers familiar with the teen detective in spite of the differences and escalated humor, and make new fans of kids that haven’t ever seen Nancy in action before.

The special features on the disc are skinny, but worth watching. The cast and crew obviously had a good time filming this one.

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