Paramount // 2009 // 101 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // May 5th, 2009
When the most popular frog on TV goes missing, two brothers go on the adventure of a lifetime to find him.
Cinema loves to portray that final, magical summer before the chaos of puberty sinks its ugly teeth into childhood. That time when liking the girl next door was innocent, all holding hands and shy smiles. It's an easy time to identify with, and makes it easy for some films to elicit sympathy from the audience. Such is the case with A Plumm Summer, which uses the theft of a local TV station marionette as the catalyst for one young boy's maturation. Although it's nice to see a film attempting to be sweet, the two halves of this tale never quite merge into a successful whole.
In a small town in Montana, Froggy Doo and his buddy Happy Herb rule the airwaves at 3 o'clock. All the children of the town are enthralled by the adventures of the green marionette, and none more so than Rocky Plumm (Owen Pearce), whose older brother Elliot (Chris Massoglia, Wanted) barely tolerates his Froggy obsession. Then one day Froggy goes missing, and Rocky convinces Elliot to start an investigation when the FBI proves unable to find the missing frog. With the help of cute new neighbor Haley (Morgan Flynn, World Trade Center), the boys set out to find Froggy. As if that weren't enough, Elliot must also deal with the fact that his father (William Baldwin, Sliver), a former boxer, doesn't seem to notice him.
There are really two films at work in A Plumm Summer. While either may have been successful on its own, the combination doesn't quite work for the family audience.
The first film is a kiddy mystery, complete with mugging villain, bumbling cops, and the kids' clever use of technology to foil the amphibian abductor. For the most part, this plot is kept to the first and third acts. In the first act we see the setup of Froggy's popularity (much of it established in voiceover narration by Jeff Daniels -- highly reminiscent of The Wonder Years). Then, he's kidnapped and the boys decide to find him. The second act really puts this story on hold, and it picks up in the third act when Elliot discovers a clever method of catching the kidnapper. The completion of the mystery is satisfying, although a little odd, and everything works out in the end.
Almost the entire second act is taken over by the story of the relationship between Elliot and his father, a man who is living drunkenly in his glory days of boxing. It seems Mick Plumm was Olympic quality, but he gave it up when Elliot's mother became pregnant, so Elliot is convinced his dad hates him for keeping him from his dream. Mick's drunken behavior comes to a head on Rocky's birthday, and there's some serious emotional fallout. The entire arc, though truncated, is handled well and the payoff with the Froggy plot works.
However, there is a significant shift in tone between these two stories, and it doesn't work in the film's favor. Yes, the stories cross over in the end as the boys chase the kidnapper, but they really fail to illuminate each other on any level: emotional, thematic, or narrative. It also creates a problem, because I suspect that young children would be really entertained by the story of Froggy Doo, and slightly older children might appreciate the father/son story, but the Froggy story is too hokey for older kids, and the emotional stuff will probably bore and/or disturb younger viewers.
A Plumm Summer arrives on DVD with a decent audiovisual presentation and some fine extras. The video transfer looks good for the material/budget with no obvious compression issues, while the audio balances the dialogue effortlessly. The extras start with a commentary by writer/director Caroline Zelder and writer/producer Frank Antonelli. The two are obviously proud of the film, and since it's Zelder's first time behind the camera she's eager to share all kinds of background information on the story, script, and production. There are also some deleted scenes and a gag reel, as well as a series of interviews from the red carpet at the film's premiere. Finally, there's a music video with behind-the-scenes footage, and the film's theatrical trailer to round the disc out.
Although I think that A Plumm Summer is the kind of film that will have difficulty finding an audience because of the shifts in tonality, I have to give it credit for not talking down to the audience. The story treats the children as real people who have needs and desires, not just as consuming machines or smart-mouthed jerks. The story is poignant without being too sappy, and I have to give the creators credit for trying. It can't be easy to sell an innocent mystery picture in the current picture market.
A Plumm Summer is 75 percent of a great family picture. The other 25 percent is fine, but might be a little too intense for young children. Although I can't give the film an unequivocal endorsement, I think it's certainly worth a look for those who want a less cynical piece of family filmmaking.
Despite its faults, A Plumm Summer is not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 101 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Deleted Scenes
* Gag Reel
* Music Videos
* Theatrical Trailer