Here at Tweenage, we love Emily Osment, Phil Lewis, Jason Earles, and David Henrie (and can theoretically tolerate Moises Arias when he’s not playing the despicable Rico on Hannah Montana), so we were very excited about Dadnapped. We shouldn’t have been.
Dadnapped is about a girl (Emily) whose horrible father is a hugely famous writer, best known for a series of books about a teen James Bond character named Trip Zoome. Yeah, I know. This wasn’t terribly clear in the movie, but apparently the horrible father used to be a dentist? And Trip…is also one? Maybe? So his catchphrase is “Floss!” which…is idiotic.
Anyway, Emily and her (divorced) horrible dad are going off on a camping trip that Emily has been stoked for for weeks, but in Horrible Dad’s life, Trip comes first, so they have to stop at a Trip Zoome convention before the camping can begin. Horrible Dad brings a life-sized cardboard cutout of Trip on the trip (ha!) with them (and are these movies, too? Who is this boy who is the face of Trip Zoome? It’s not clear), and Emily is so frustrated with Trip’s place in her father’s heart that she has conversations with the cardboard cutout, which becomes sassier and less tied to its cardboard identity as the movie goes on. I actually thought this was a really interesting, ambitious concept, but everyone else in the room hated it (I’m also the only one who liked the movie’s title). It’s okay. There’ll be plenty of things we all agreed to hate together later.
So there’s this contest at the convention: whoever creates a Trip gadget with the most accuracy wins a cameo in the next Trip book. This is basically an excuse for all the lunatics at the convention to engage in a lot of insane slapstick stunts while Emily rolls her eyes. Man, people who read are so weird and nerdy! But the people who take it way too far are David Henrie, his little brother Moises, and their wacky black friend who doesn’t do anything, because that is how DCOMs roll. They actually kidnap Horrible Dad, which is a problem for Phil Lewis and his inexplicably white brother, the Poor Man’s Janitor from Scrubs, because they also want to kidnap Horrible Dad.
Emily takes off to rescue Horrible Dad with the help of Jason Earles, the hotel manager, and let me just say, Disney, that if you want to maintain the illusion that Jason Earles is a teenager and not 30something so that he can keep playing Jackson on Hannah Montana, you can’t also use him in movies where he plays a grownup. Like, we were all aware watching this movie that the man is not seventeen and is in fact old as the hills, but it was still unsettling. It’s gonna weird kids out.
So Emily and Jason Earles, and Phil Lewis and the PMJFS, are trailing D-Hen, Moises, and Wacky Black Friend, while Horrible Dad tries to convince them to let him go back to the con. They refuse, because they think that the more they torture Horrible Dad, the more likely he is to put them in his book. There is something wrong with their brains. Then he points out that all the Trip Zoome books they’re using as reference are overdue library books, and they are shocked - shocked! - to discover that library books can be overdue and they can charge you fines. Even though at least D-Hen is, like, 17. And wouldn’t diehard Trip fans own the books, anyway?
So they rush off to the library to return the books (oh noes, a nickel-a-day fine, their kryptonite!), and Horrible Dad decides to show them a Trip trick instead of, you know, returning to the convention or assuring his daughter that he’s all right. They cut out the inside of a book (because libraries want you to pay fines for late books, but they’re totally cool with you destroying the books inside the library) and place a mousetrap (no, I don’t know where they got it from) inside it, rigged with some blue goo, with Horrible Dad explaining that the next librarian who opens it will get a nasty surprise. It was at this point that Becky’s sister Rachel reminded us that librarians and dentists have been feuding for centuries, so this totally made sense.
Emily enters the library, sees them putting the book on the shelf and then hiding (because they apparently believe that out of all of the books in the entire library, a librarian will chose that one to open right away), and rather than go get her stupid dad and return to the convention, she decides to open the book – and gets a faceful of blue goo. Horrible Dad laughs his ass off, because he’s horrible. It’s cool, though, the minute she walks out of the library the goo is gone.
Horrible Dad follows her out, and this is where Phil Lewis and the PMJFS make their play, forcing Horrible Dad into their van by threatening him with a stapler. Seriously, a stapler. Emily, loath to lose her dad again, sticks her wrist in the cuffs they’re putting on him, handcuffing them together. (Which hand is handcuffed to which, whether they’re handcuffed together or separately, and whether they’re handcuffed at all will not be remotely consistent for the rest of the movie. Just FYI.) Then they both get into the van, despite the fact that their kidnappers can do no more than yell “Get in the van!” and wave a stapler at them.
Phil Lewis and the PMJFS’s brilliant plan? The PMJFS has written a terrible book, and they want Horrible Dad to edit/ghost write it. At
Meanwhile, D-Hen, Moises, and Wacky Black Friend try to rescue them, but their van breaks, I forget why. But Emily leaves a clue for them in a gas station restroom – a page from a Trip Zoome book, with the word “presidential” circled in lip gloss. They’re going back to the hotel, where they’re staying in the Presidential Suite. Because the best place to hide a famous author is in a hotel hosting a convention of his fans. Yep.
As they travel around with their incompetent kidnappers, Emily and Horrible Dad have it out. She asks why he’s never put her in any of his books, which is the wrong question to ask, but whatever (try “Why don’t you ever have time for me?” or “Why is your career more important than your own daughter?” or “How can you possibly be so horrible, Horrible Dad?”). He tells her that the characters in his books are nothing like her – they’re dynamic, accomplished, interesting people. He actually says this! And doesn’t know why she starts crying! Then he’s pretty much shocked that she knows how to read. So horrible, Horrible Dad! Emily accuses him of not knowing anything about her, yelling at him that he doesn't even know she won a local writing contest. He gets all proud and asks her, "You like writing? You won a contest?" but, crying angrily, she says, "Two years in a row, Dad." An actual well-written, well-acted emotional moment! Good job, Ems!
It turns out that Jason Earles is part of this whole plan. Shocker! (Not really.) Also, his private suite is pretty much the gayest Disney Channel living quarters since Cody moved into the closet on The Suite Life. Shocker! (Still not really.) He doesn’t give a shit about the PMJFS’s book, of course; he just wants a manuscript by Horrible Dad that he can market as Horrible Dad’s last book – after he kills Horrible Dad. Of course, it would make much more sense to simply steal the next Trip Zoome manuscript, but this is the Disney Channel.
Somehow, possibly through telepathy, Emily has conveyed some Triptastic (yes, they use that word) plot to D-Hen that involves…all of the fans dressing up weird and filling squirt guns with goo? Jason locks her in the bathroom, so she uses various bathroom supplies to write a giant Z on the shower curtain and hangs it out the window, which is somehow the signal, even though she didn’t know she’d be locked in the bathroom. The fans start yelling, and when Jason sticks his head out the window, they all shoot him with the most powerful squirt guns in the world and cover him with goo.
Of course, this means that the kidnappers have to flee the hotel, because goo! They grab Horrible Dad and Emily, but every time they try to exit, fans squirt them with more goo! Including Horrible Dad and Emily, because the fans aren’t terribly discriminating! Finally, Jason has been squirted with so much goo that he gives up. No, I don’t understand it either.
Also, somewhere in here Horrible Dad tells Emily that Trip Zoome is based on her. Even though he already explicitly stated that she is not in his books because she is boring to him. NO, I DON’T UNDERSTAND IT EITHER.
Back at the convention, Horrible Dad awards D-Hen, Moises, and Wacky Black Friend the prize. D-Hen and Emily exchange numbers, and Emily and Horrible Dad head off to go camping. Hooray!
I read a lot about good production values on this movie, and you know, they were pretty good. And the acting wasn’t bad, especially since they cherry-picked almost all of the better actors of their flagship shows. And the basic premise of "bad father learns to be less bad, and gets to know his daughter via wacky hijinks" is pretty solid. But it fell down in execution pretty badly. Nothing could save the utterly brain-numbing nonsense of the plot, not even Emily Osment’s kicky red coat and frequent eye-rolling.
So in conclusion: D-Hen and Emily, it’s a good thing you’re cute.
Image from the superlative Emily Osment World.