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Featured DVD Review: The Three Investigators and the Secret of Skeleton Island

December 5th, 2011

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The Three Investigators is a series of crime novels aimed at young teens that were first published in the 1960s and lasted until the 1980s, with more than 40 novels published. The Three Investigators in the Secret of Skeleton Island is the first of two films produced in the past few years. It was a German production and cost about $15 million to make, but sold less than a million tickets in its native market. It even got a theatrical release here. About five years after it was made it is finally coming out on DVD, but was it worth the wait?

The Movie

The film focuses on the exploits of three thirteen-year old boys, who run a private investigation company: Jupiter Jones, Pete Crenshaw, and Bob Andrews. The film begins with them nearly being crushed by an elevator, before they stop a stolen painting from being smuggled out of an auction house in a forged painting.

The plot begins when the three of them fly to South Africa to meet Pete's father, who is helping to build an amusement park on Skeleton Island and Peter, Jupiter and Bob will join him for vacation. The island is reported to be cursed and, given what happened to the previous contractor, there might be something to the curse and it might have something to do with the burial ground of the indigenous people. The current chieftain, Gamba, and later his daughter, Chris, warn them that something terrible will happen on the island if they don't leave. When Miss Wilbur is attacked by something in a cave, Gamba is arrested for assault, Chris asks the three detectives to help. Despite Pete's father telling them not to get involved, they can't say no when Chris sneaks into their bedroom that night and hires them.

This sounds like a case to crack.

The Secret of Skeleton Island is an adventure movie aimed at kids, but that last part is a little too obvious. It's like Indiana Jones, but with 13-year olds, it won't appeal to too many people outside of that age range. I do realize the books came before the Indiana Jones movies, so I'm not accusing the filmmakers of borrowing from those films, but that's a quick way of describing this movie. There's a solid mystery, some action, some romance, etc. A setup like that is something you could build a franchise around and I assume that's what the studio was hoping for. But while there was a sequel made a couple years later, neither film was really a box office hit. It doesn't feel like a major box office movie, but a pretty good TV movie aimed solely at kids. More Goosebumps than Harry Potter.

I've never read the books, so I can't give specific information about the changes that were made to the story or if the movie is better or not, but I have more than a few complaints about the changes. Most of the characters are new. Chris was changed to a girl. The main bad guy was changed, adding in a surprise twist. The big reveal on the last one felt a little lazy. In fact, the entire finale didn't really work for me. Kids might like it better, but their parents will be checking their watches.

The Extras

There are not real extras, but the DVD includes the trailer for the sequel.

The Verdict

The best kids movies are films that adults can enjoy that kids will also want to watch. The Three Investigators and the Secret of Skeleton Island is a movie that is strictly aimed at kids. It's not bad and it should entertain 13-year old kids, but there are a lot of options if that is your goal. With no real extras on the DVD, a rental wil be enough for most fans.

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