Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase parents guide

Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase Parent Guide

Mediocre acting, lazy writing, and flat, stereotypical female characters mar this 21st century update of the beloved fictional sleuth.

Overall B-

Everyone's favorite red-headed teen sleuth gets a 21st century update as Nancy finds herself in a small town where there's nothing to do. Except for investigating the local haunted house...

Release date March 15, 2019

Violence B+
Sexual Content A
Profanity A
Substance Use A

Why is Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase rated PG? The MPAA rated Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase PG for peril, suggestive material, thematic elements and language

Run Time: 89 minutes

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Parent Movie Review

Nancy Drew is an iconic albeit polarizing figure. Especially for me. My pre-teen self was inspired by her intelligence, unparalleled courage, kindness, and pluck. Even though I grew up in the 90’s, Nancy’s adventures stood as an inspiring beacon of kick-butt femininity. But as I headed off to watch the film, I was concerned that the 1930’s language, relationships, and cultural attitudes around women would make me cringe. I was apprehensive that Nancy might not have aged well and afraid that I wouldn’t be able to share her adventures – in print or film – with my daughters.

So I took all of these concerns, and my six year old daughter, to the new Nancy Drew movie, Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase. While I don’t normally take my daughters to reviews, I thought her insight could be helpful. And my childcare demanded it.

We meet Nancy Drew (Sophia Lillis) as she longboards down the middle of the street, zoned out and in her own world. (As a side note: by turning Nancy Drew into a “skater chick” director Katt Shea has made some bold choices about what she thinks a modern Nancy should look like.) Nancy is quickly pulled into cyber-bullying drama when one of her best friends, Bess (Mackenzie Graham), is victimized by the star jock/jerk king of the school for no apparent reason. In an almost Veronica Mars-esque plot, Nancy exacts her revenge, but is quickly punished for her “crimes” with community service. It is while serving out her “totally harsh” sentence that she meets Flora (Linda Lavin). Flora is an older woman who also happens to be the great aunt of Helen (Laura Wiggins), the girlfriend of our zero-dimensional, cyber bully . But Flora, unlike her great-niece, is funny, charming, and taken by Nancy’s no-nonsense tough girl personality. She’s also experiencing nightly hauntings in her home, which happens to be one of the oldest in River Heights, and the source of a current railroad dispute in the town. The police are dismissive, but Nancy is intrigued and decides to spend the night at Flora’s to do some detecting.

What follows is some haunting, some sleuthing, and a predictable story that you’ve probably already solved after reading these basic plot points. While the haunting part is much scarier than I, or my six year old daughter, expected (I may be paying for that later this week), the content is tame enough. There’s some fighting with obvious bad guys, and a gun is brandished in threatening ways a handful of times. There is no profanity, a brief discussion of the octogenarian being a former burlesque dancer, and one hotel clerk spikes her own coffee with something a little stronger. Other than the scary sequence near the beginning of the movie, my six year old could handle all the content just fine, though she may have been a little bored.

What really frustrated me about this movie, apart from the acting (which was mediocre), was the writing. Simply adding random traits to a character’s personality doesn’t automatically add depth or make them quirky, charming, or likable. It can just come across as arbitrary, and frankly, a bit lazy. I was also frustrated by the over-simplified, stereotypical portrayal of girls. This modern Nancy eschews boy talk, nail polish, or anything that is typically “girly” which is supposed to give her more depth and substance. Aren’t we past this? Being tough, brave, and adventurous shouldn’t automatically exclude enjoying “girly” pastimes. In perpetuating these stereotypes about girls we limit them, and undermine what made the original Nancy Drew books so great: Nancy defied stereotype. She was young, brave, not afraid to get dirty, and would clean up and look darling for a cocktail party later that night when she would keep sleuthing and catch the bad guy. I want a Nancy Drew for the modern age that can deliver that kind of balance, to inspire a new generation of girls to be strong and courageous, and proud of who they are (even if that means they like nail polish *gasp*!). Unfortunately, this was not it.

Directed by Katt Shea. Starring Sophia Lillis, Laura Wiggins, and Andrea Anders. Running time: 89 minutes. Theatrical release March 15, 2019. Updated

Watch the trailer for Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase

Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase
Rating & Content Info

Why is Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase rated PG? Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase is rated PG by the MPAA for peril, suggestive material, thematic elements and language

Violence: B+ A group of women are attacked by a seemingly supernatural force, that is a little scary. One character fights with a masked man, and is choked by them. Twice people are attacked form behind and knocked out with chloroform. Characters are drugged without their knowledge or consent. Later a bad guy is forced to drink a hallucinogen in a moment of self defense. Guns are waved around a couple of times, and talk of killing witnesses is thrown out.
Sexual Content: A A character requests a single shimmy from a former burlesque dancer.
Profanity: A No profanity.
Alcohol / Drug Use: A It is implied that a minor character has used alcohol in their coffee, but the bottle is barely visible, and actually pouring or drinking is not seen. 

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Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase Parents' Guide

This movie is mostly made up of female characters and relationships. How did you feel the girls in the movie were portrayed? Did the characters seem complex, or real to you? Did you identify with one of them more than another? Or do you have friends that you think resemble those characters? What about their relationships with each other? Did you feel those were realistic? What did you like about Nancy? What didn’t you like?

What is your take on Nancy’s approach to respecting authority? Do you think she is right to be so sure of her own approach, or is it reckless?

Loved this movie? Try these books…

There are 175 books in the Nancy Drew Mystery Stories, the principal Nancy Drew series written by several authors under the pseudonym of Carolyn Keene. The first in the series is The Secret of the Old Clock (published in 1930),followed in the same year by The Hidden Staircase, The Bungalow Mystery, and The Mystery at Lilac Inn.

The Nancy Drew books were created by the publishers of The Hardy Boys series in an attempt to attract female readers. The Hardy Boys were written ostensibly by Franklin W Dixon, but really by several ghostwriters. The original series featured brothers Frank and Joe Hardy and spawned 190 books. The first in the series is The Hidden Treasure.

Fans of teen sleuths can also dive into the 39-book Trixie Belden series, which was written by Julie Campbell Tatham and Kathryn Kenny. Trixie’s first adventure is recounted in The Secret of the Mansion.

English author Enid Blyton also produced whodunits for young readers. Her Famous Five series begins with Five on Treasure Island and encompasses 21 books. Blyton also wrote 15 stories about a group of seven sleuths, beginning with The Secret Seven.

Home Video

The most recent home video release of Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase movie is April 2, 2019. Here are some details…

Related home video titles:

Fans of the teen detective can watch the 2007 Nancy Drew, starring Emma Roberts. In this version, Nancy is living in Los Angeles and trying to solve the murder of a movie star.

Teen sleuthing takes a dark turn in Paper Towns. A young woman disappears but leaves a trail of clues for her friends to follow.

Detection comes down to a kid’s level in Sherlock Gnomes, The Rescuers, and Disney’s classic, The Great Mouse Detective.