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Staff Picks: Meddling Kids
Movies that could’ve gotten away with it too.
Feature Presentation’s Staff Picks is not a best-of list. How do you even craft a list of the best of something as subjective as film? This is a list designed to highlight films (and occasionally television shows or other mediums of entertainment) of a certain theme or topic. It’s a watchlist, they are suggestions. Movies on this list will very in quality, length, genre, and home video or streaming availability.
This list’s theme: Meddling Kids
Mystery Team (2009)
A group of former Encyclopedia Brown-style child-detectives struggle to solve an adult mystery.
Before he became Troy on Community or created Atlanta or won Grammys as Childish Gambino, Donald Glover was a part of the sketchy comedy group Derrick Comedy.
Derrick Comedy hopped on the YouTube train early, posting their scripted comedy sketches to the site and gaining some traction there. (I’ve watched the Jerry sketch approximately 700 times.) When it came time to make their debut film, they found the perfect vehicle for their personalities and personas of likable dummies.
Mystery Team follows some kids who never really grew up from their meddling kids roots. Master of Disguise Jason really just wears Groucho Marx glasses, Boy Genius Duncan memorized some fun facts, and Strong Man Charlie, well, isn’t really that strong. When it’s time for them to solve a real crime, in this case, a double homicide, they’re obviously in way over their heads. Comedy ensues.
If you’re familiar with Derrick Comedy or any of the Community-esque shows, you’ll appreciate the humor. There’s one scene that finds them in a strip club that’s a particular goldmine for this premise. If you like these folks (or people like Parks and Rec’s Aubrey Plaza, The Office’s Ellie Kemper, or SNL’s Bobby Moynihan) — then this is a must. They’re all early in their careers and eager to make this movie and that excitedness comes across so perfectly for these characters.
The Kid Detective (2020)
A once-celebrated kid detective, now 31, continues to solve the same trivial mysteries between hangovers and bouts of self-pity. Until a naive client brings him his first ‘adult’ case, to find out who brutally murdered her boyfriend.
Along those same lines, The Kid Detective follows former-kid detective Abe Applebaum (Adam Brody) as a 32-year-old now-private detective whose glory days took place before he had chest hair.
Just like Mystery Team, this movie is plenty fun. But it’s considerably less silly. Writer-director Evan Thomas is quoted as saying “The premise felt immediately funny but it also felt immediately sad and painful.”
And that’s really the big difference between these two films. While Mystery Team finds innocence in its premise, The Kid Detective uses its similar premise to explore the dangers of masculinity, cynicism, and even growing up. Many people reached their glory years early, few did it at eight years old.
And the mystery here is no joke, either. It gets very dark at the end. But please don’t be mistaken, this movie is still a successful comedy with the best of callback moments.
Be Cool, Scooby-Doo! (2015–2018)
Scooby and his friends — Fred, Shaggy, Daphne and Velma — hit the road in the Mystery Machine after high school ends to live it up one last summer before adulthood. But, as is to be expected, it’s not all fun and games for the crew members, who must deal with monsters and mayhem along the way. Working together, they hope to solve any mystery that gets thrown at them.
Alright, alright, no more surprises. This list had to include some Doo.
I grew up at the perfect time to be a Scooby-Doo fan. My mom loved the original series as a child and had picked up a few VHS releases to pass on that love to me. This was the same time that direct-to-video movies were all the rage, and those late 90s/early 00s versions of the characters might be the very best. A Pup Named Scooby-Doo was in syndication on cable and the live-action movies were in theaters. It was the height of Scoob.
Maybe it’s just the fact that I grew up, but I don’t think the franchise has ever reached those heights since¹. Other shows never really caught on, the direct-to-cable live actions were terrible, and the 2020 Scoob! was borderline offensive.
I think the notable exception here is Be Cool, Scooby-Doo! because it takes what makes these characters fun and special while doing its own thing. Above all, it’s a comedy. Comedies for kids can really be hit or miss, but this show truly makes me laugh out loud. It’s genuinely funny for all ages.
It also plays with the characters and setups while still giving us situations, villains, motifs, and iconography that we recognize. I think it’s the best Scooby-Doo since Casey Kasem.
¹I don’t think it’s me. SpongeBob now is unrecognizable compared to the SpongeBob I watched as a kid.
Blue Velvet (1986)
The discovery of a severed human ear found in a field leads a young man on an investigation related to a beautiful, mysterious nightclub singer and a group of criminals who have kidnapped her child.
And now for something completely different.
I’m creeped out by suburbia. Perhaps it’s due to too many home invasion horror movies as a child, but I’ve been creeped out by “ordinary life” for a long time. I currently live in the #2 city in the country in terms of the homicide rate and I feel safer here than I do back home, where I visit on holidays. On my runs and walks there, I find myself looking over my shoulder more often. I don’t like open windows. It’s totally insane to me how almost no one wore a mask at the grocery store during the height of the pandemic. I feel like this small-town life is just exterior. Nothing is as it seems.
Director David Lynch portrays a similar feeling in Blue Velvet. The seedy underground that Kyle MacLachlan’s Jeffrey stumbles upon (well, really he seeks it out) is far worse than any of that. He and Laura Dern’s Sandy get themselves messed up in things they shouldn’t have anything to do with — most notably Dennis Hopper in what is maybe his creepiest performance. The difference between their suburbia and his lifestyle is really something. It’s not Scooby-Doo, but it’s the most adult version of meddling kids.
How many lists include both Be Cool, Scooby Doo and Blue Velvet? Only on Feature Presentation.
Credit: Each plot synopsis comes from Letterboxd via TMDb.