DVD Review: A Plumm Summer (2007)

This Family Charmer
Arrives on DVD

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Like Martin and Lewis, Abbott and Costello, and Laurel and Hardy, to Montana's own Happy Herb (Henry Winkler)-- the host of the #1 rated children's television show-- his scene-stealing marionette sidekick Froggy Doo isn't just a fuzzy concoction of felt, string, denim, stuffing, plastic eyes, and arts and crafts. No, rather he's the perfect gag man for a series that has kept children laughing for twenty-two years.

Video Clip:
Happy Herb & Froggy Doo's Safety Tip

Needless to say, while others would've simply traded up for a better stitched partner in entertaining crime, after Froggy Doo mysteriously vanishes and the F.B.I. gets involved when ransom demands and suspicious activity start creeping into Herb's small town, the gentle and charismatic TV host goes on hiatus, unwilling to continue without Froggy.

Inspired by the true story of the abduction of Herb McAllister's puppet in 1968 that garnered national media and law-enforcement attention, first time filmmaker Caroline Zelder's award winning retro film uses this peculiar incident as a stepping stone to a nice, homespun, warm and beautifully photographed work.

While on the surface, it's dressed up as a mystery, essentially it focuses on two brothers coming of age amidst not only the case they decide to solve but also as their family unit is threatened by their frequently drunk former boxing hopeful father (William Baldwin).

One of those men who just can't get past the fact that he "could've been a contender" even going as far as to imply that marriage and an unexpected pregnancy halted his dreams-- Baldwin tackles a difficult role with a predictable but believable arc when he and his sons realize they must face their fears and move on.

Narrated by Jeff Daniels (Because of Winn Dixie, Fly Away Home), Zelder's award-winning work, A Plumm Summer recalls the vintage feel of the superior yet tonally and cinematically similar movies My Dog Skip and October Sky as she-- along with her fellow screenwriters T.J. Lynch and Frank Antonelli-- manage to weave some truly tender and moving threads into what could've been a very loose and flimsy, decorative picture about a frog-napping.

As Daniels is heard on the soundtrack recalling that summer of '68 in Montana that was a whole lot more idyllic--at least in the warm-tones of the lush cinematography-- than most of us associate with that politically tumultuous year, we meet the younger version of himself as the adolescent Elliott (Chris J. Kelly).

Shortly after the puppet vanishes, Elliott teams up with his adorable, innocent brother Rocky (Owen Pearce) and a cute new girl next door (Morgan Flynn) as they decide to sleuth out the clues and help get Froggy Doo and Happy Herb back on television where they belong.

Having earned the prestigious seal of approval from both the Dove Foundation and Parents Television Council, this high-quality work that is elevated by superb craftsmanship and a truly likable cast (especially in the form of Pearce and Winkler who are ideal for their roles), Zelder's film which is slated for a DVD release on May 5th has additionally been bestowed with the 2007 Audience Award from the Austin Film Festival as well as the Vision Award for Best Family Film from the 2007 Heartland Film Festival.

Undeniably wholesome yet welcomingly filled with complex issues about the family dynamic both in the relationships of Elliott Plumm and his family as well as Happy Herb and his wife-- it's a refreshing work that should appeal equally well to adults and children.

Likewise it impresses in its DVD debut via a visually superlative digital transfer that boasts a filmmaker commentary track (with Zelder and Antonelli), a gag reel, deleted scenes, the original trailer, as well as two Behind-the-Scenes extras that bring viewers to the Red Carpet premiere along with a music video. So frog-nappers beware--neither the Feds nor a group of well-meaning kids will let you get away with a crime against entertainment. And additionally, this charming little sleeper incidentally manages to solve a crime against bad entertainment with its precious existence in a realm of too many children's releases that revolve solely around bodily humor and sarcasm.