Will Warner’s ‘Encyclopedia Brown’ deal with school shootings and bullies?

I just recently reviewed “The Dirties,” a film by Matthew Johnson, and I thought it was a smart and even-handed look at how easy it is, even in today’s more aware environment, for the seriously broken and the deeply angry to plan and execute an attack on others. We love to tell ourselves that after 9/11 and Columbine and every other breach of our public safety in the last fifteen to twenty years that we have changed and we are safer and we are being more careful now. Nonsense, of course, and “The Dirties” was very good about showing the way people play into these breakdowns and the way bullying culture is allowed and even enabled.

To call him an unconventional choice to write “Encyclopedia Brown” is an understatement. I’m not actually sure what name recognition value there is in “Encyclopedia Brown” these days. My third grader reads a similar series assigned by his school called the “Jigsaw Jones” mysteries. Makes sense. Kids still do jigsaw puzzles, so the idea of a puzzle being something you have to piece together is a reference they’ll get. An “encyclopedia,” though, is pretty much an unknown idea to them. While I enjoyed the Donald Sobol books when I was young, I never really had any illusions about them being great stories or particularly character-driven.

This is another of about forty potential franchises that Roy Lee is producing for the studio, and I’m sure they’re hoping they crack it in a way that is fun and that they can turn into a series. In a world where “Mystery Team” exists, you can’t go post-modern with it. You have to treat it somewhat seriously, but the premise of a kid solving mysteries out of his dad’s garage is ridiculous, so you can’t play it too seriously, either. If you age him up too much, it’s “Veronica Mars” suddenly, and if he’s too youn, I’m not sure how you get older kids to watch it. It seems like there are a lot of ways to get “Encyclopedia Brown” wrong, but very few ways to get it right.

We’ll see if Johnson can get his version off the ground now. Regardless, seems like he is starting to catch some studio gigs, and here’s hoping he finds some things that are a good match for his voice.

“The Dirties” is currently playing in some places, opening soon in others, and can be seen on demand via iTunes as well.