Secrets of the Mountain
Pssst... Walmart's Making Movies

Raise your hands.  How many of you grew up reading Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Encyclopedia Brown, or Happy Hollister mysteries?  Personally, I can remember spending many an engrossing summer afternoon with such simple-minded but entertaining kid lit… though, even at the time, I felt slightly embarrassed reading them.

That feeling of adventurous innocence—coupled with a B-grade, TV-movie Mummy aesthetic—is captured perfectly in Walmart’s second foray into feature filmmaking.

“Say what?” you ask.  Yes.  Walmart, you may not be aware, is one of the most influential forces in DVD and book marketing—and recognizing that this is the case, the purveyor of all things mass-produced and economically priced has entered into an exclusive deal with Procter and Gamble and NBC to produce family-oriented product-placement films, air them on broadcast TV, and then distribute them exclusively through the muscular entertainment venues called Walmart stores.

Douglas Barr, director of Secrets of the Mountain

Did you catch this one on TV?  An awful lot of people did, as it handily captured the number one ranking spot for the time slot in which it initially aired.  And I suspect Walmart is going to sell an awful lot of the DVDs, too.  The music producer for the program was Randy Jackson (yes, of American Idol fame), and the two-disc boxed set includes an audio CD of songs featured in and related to the film, some of them recorded by former Idol stars.  Yes, this is a commercial package, right down to the Walmart-branded products prominently framed in many of the film’s shots.

What’s it about?  Well, silly, it’s about teen and pre-teen kids having an adventure related to pirates, Aztec treasure, and a mountain lodge.  If that’s not enough, it’s about a single-mom grappling with own past and learning how to get her priorities straight.

The film really feels like an updated, extended-length episode of Lassie or Rin Tin Tin.  And as I recall, such cliff-hangerish stories were not so bad in their day—and probably feel like a breath of fresh air for families today.  Yes, the legacy of that tradition has us aping Raiders more than Tarzan—and Secrets is no Raiders.  But if you’re okay with it not trying to be, you will probably enjoy it just fine.

The saving grace of the program is a fine lead performance by Paige Turco as the mom, Dana.  She’s an appealing actress, used well here by veteran TV director (and actor Douglas Barr) as the anchor around which to secure the other more serviceable performances.  It’s really great to watch a veteran 40-something performer acting in an age-appropriate role, doing it well, and not pretending to be fifteen years younger.

As for the rest… well, no real surprises here, and not much real tension, either.  But if I never expected reality from Pete, Pam, Ricky, and Susie Hollister, why should I demand it here?

Secrets of the Mountain is rated TV-PG.  Sound enough.  Just a little mild action peril.

Courtesy of a national publicist, Greg screened a promotional copy of Secrets of the Mountain.