A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase is based on a classic 1930 Nancy Drew mystery book and is aimed at tweens and young teens. Though the story involves a politically motivated kidnapping and a supposedly haunted house, the scariest moment is during what turns out to be a dream sequence, when a creepy mask is pulled away to reveal a blank void. A man is kidnapped and threatened with death by gun-wielding abductors. A young teen talks briefly about her mother, who has died; another is cyberbullied, and she and her friends respond in kind -- facing consequences/punishment as a result. Teen girls are chased, threatened, and briefly grabbed by adults; one character stabs another in the hand; and, after a villain is given a hallucinogenic substance, he sees frightening visions. Characters talk about boyfriends/girlfriends, dating, and crushes, and a male character gives Nancy (Sophia Lillis) loaded glances and special attention. An older character with a past as a burlesque dancer is depicted as still sexual; she refers to a long list of "gentlemen callers." Language is mild but includes "damning," "oh my God," "loser," "butt," "freaking," etc. Positive messages include courage and teamwork, and strong role models (mostly female) are at the center of the action.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Based on the long-running series of mystery stories, NANCY DREW AND THE HIDDEN STAIRCASE is set in a modern-day River Heights, where Nancy Drew (Sophia Lillis) and her lawyer father, Carson (Sam Trammell), have moved from Chicago following the death of Nancy's mother. With Carson embroiled in a local fight over a proposed new train system, Nancy gets mixed up in a mystery. Eccentric local Flora Turnbull (Linda Lavin) believes that her mansion, Twin Elms, is being haunted by restless spirits. Can Nancy and her friends uncover what's behind Twin Elms' strange happenings and bring River Heights together again? Andrea Anders co-stars as Hannah, who's Carson's sister/Nancy's aunt in this version, rather than their housekeeper.
Is it any good?
Sparkling and lovable, this tween-friendly film ably updates Nancy Drew for the "future is female" generation. Fans of the classic books may wonder how Carolyn Keene's "girl sleuth" (who never let a mystery distract her from a pretty frock or a good hot meal) would read in an age when girls' lives are much more adventurous (and complicated) than those depicted between the original books' yellow covers. But 2018's Nancy Drew keeps what was always great about Nancy -- her bravery, her empathy with victims, and her girl-power pals -- and smartly skips the old-fashioned and hidebound, like the books' casual sexism and racism.
The plot of Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase is drawn directly from the book of the same name (not the 1930 original, but the 1959 update), and it's silly Scooby-Doo action all the way. You'll guess the villain as soon as he shows up, and none of the other plot "twists" will come as a surprise, either. What might? Almost every character gets a humanizing moment, including the so-called "mean girl" who believably transforms from an eye-rolling snob into a true pal, thanks to the warmth and kindness of Nancy and her pals. Young viewers will be on board both for the hijinks and for the movie's essential sweetness -- because that never goes out of style.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why kid/teen books are so often turned into movies. What built-in appeal might a character from a popular book have? Would a fan of the Nancy Drew books be more likely to see Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase? What other book-to-movie adaptations can you name? How is this movie similar to or different from them?
Bess is upset when someone posts a mean video about her online. Have you/your friends ever dealt with cyberbullying? How did you handle it? What do you think about the way Bess, George, and Nancy get their revenge (or, as Nancy calls it, "justice")? Is it warranted? Are the consequences appropriate?
Is Nancy a role model? Why or why not? Do she and her friends provide positive examples of gender representation? What do you think of the expectations they have for themselves -- and one another?
In the Nancy Drew books, Nancy is generally depicted as a high school graduate, though her age ranges from 16 to 18. Why do you think the filmmakers chose to show Nancy as a high school student? What dramatic possibilities does this setting hold? Would tweens be as likely to relate to an adult character?
- In theaters: March 15, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: April 2, 2019
- Cast: Sophia Lillis, Laura Wiggins, Andrea Anders
- Director: Katt Shea
- Studio: Warner Bros.
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: STEM, Book Characters, Great Girl Role Models
- Character strengths: Courage, Empathy, Teamwork
- Run time: 89 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: peril, suggestive material, thematic elements and language
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Selection
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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