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Winsor McCay -- The Master Edition

A new DVD offers an opportunity to see films by a master of animation —Andrea Birgers (DVD review...)

Gertie the Dinosaur, born of Winsor McCay

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Quick! While Lindsay’s in rehab (again) and Paris is in the slammer (again), check out Nancy Drew and focus on what a girl with brains can do!

Everything Is Evidence

Focus on what a girl with brains can do!
Focus on what a girl with brains can do!

OK. This Nancy Drew (Emma Roberts, Aquamarine) is a little over the top and a departure from the Carolyn Keene novels. Purists might be off-put, but this is an entertaining romp that gives younger girls a higher target to shoot for than becoming the latest scandal-ridden celebrity debutante.

Yes, Nancy is still super smart and a super sleuth. Even the sheriff of River Heights, USA, says the 16-year-old would be his best man if she was on the force. Nonetheless, while a fair amount of drama surrounds the main mystery, much of what goes on in this modern-day telling is played for laughs.

Full of pluck, this Nancy begins her big screen debut in the thick of a robbery case. Already well-known for her mystery-solving prowess and knowing full well how to negotiate with crooks, judges and district attorneys, she cuts a deal with a couple low-rung cronies after schooling them on the ways of justice.

With that case closed, Nancy takes off with her father, Carson (Tate Donovan, Good Night, and Good Luck), to Hollywood, where she promises to give up sleuthing in favor of acting like a “normal” teenager. But being transported from the idyllic, 1950s time warp that is River Heights to the brash and snooty environs of Hollywood makes Nancy something like a fish out of water.

Sunset Blvd.

Nancy perpetually outshines all the other students. For a woodworking assignment in shop class, Nancy’s drive to excel finds her creating a mini Notre Dame, albeit with only 12 flying buttresses instead of 26. When it comes time to decorate for a party, she turns into a streamer queen. While running on the track, she’s way ahead of the pack and barely breaks a sweat.

Even so, she’s still an iPod-toting, Internet-surfing teenager with a thing for yummy blondies and, when she finds herself shunned by the far more hip chicks at school, Nancy falls back on her one overriding addiction: sleuthing. Always thinking ahead, she had already found a place for her and her dad to stay while in Hollywood. The main attraction for Nancy: the place comes with its own mystery.

Back in the 1970s, a Hollywood starlet named Dehlia Draycott lived in the now-neglected mansion. At one point Dehlia disappeared for five months, but she reappeared and held a party at the house. Unfortunately, she was found dead in the pool that same day.

From there, Nancy gets entangled in a mystery involving Dehlia’s fate, her lover that goes by the initial “Z,” and their love child who was given up for adoption.

Given the movie’s more humorous aspirations and comic characters, including a couple high school girls reminiscent of Mean Girls and a spunky 12-year-old kid named Corky who carries a torch for Ms. Drew, the mystery turns out to be decent enough. Granted, it’s not Agatha Christie, or vintage Carolyn Keene for that matter, but it works.

All in the Family

In a rather refreshing message for a tweener-skewed movie, the motto for Nancy and her widowed father is “Others first.” In this case, Nancy does herself proud by playing a significant role in reuniting another motherless daughter with her father. The movie, which earns bonus points for being palatable by adults by while still aiming for the young, ends on a very tidy, big-hearted note that matches the story’s surprisingly wholesome tone.

Sure, Pamela Sue Martin played a much more together and serious version of Nancy in the 1970s TV series. But the comedic elements work here in a way that will, hopefully, still spur interest in the young to check out those original books and decide on their own which Nancy they prefer.

By taking a lighter approach, director Andrew Fleming (Dick) and the gang open things up to some nicely inspired bits, including a cameo by Bruce Willis (Die Hard), who just so happens to be filming his latest gumshoe flick set in the 1950s when Nancy bursts on the scene and points out the Miranda Act wasn’t instituted until the 1960s. So impressed by her gumption and knowledge, Bruce, with a certain degree of earnestness, offers to fire the hack director and have Nancy finish the movie.

As for Emma Roberts, the daughter of Eric Roberts and Julia Roberts’ niece, she turns in a winning performance that fits in nicely with the cast’s veterans, including Barry Bostwick (Evening) and Rachael Leigh Cook (She’s All That).

Now here’s to hoping Emma’s youth won’t go down the path of tabloids and rehab clinics.