As we’ve been journeying along in the network that gave us many happy memories with their cartoons, live action shows, merchandise, and studio, it’s astonishing that the little network that originated from Columbus, Ohio would turn into the huge juggernaut that is Nickelodeon today. How amazing that in 1984, it was almost shut down due to being in millions of dollars in debt and ranked as the worst network on television. Oh, how the times have changed. Around 1995, Nickelodeon decided to open another production company to release the following media: movies. It took a year later for their first feature film to be released to the public. That movie wasÂ Harriet the SpyÂ which was released on July 10, 1996.
Based of the 1964 children’s novel of the same name written by Louise Fitzhugh,Â Harriet the SpyÂ told us of the story of a young 11-year-old girl named Harriet Welsch who dreams of becoming a writer. After school, she became a spy and went on an “spy route” to observe her classmates, her friends, and people from the neighborhood and write her thoughts down on a notebook. Her notebook is private to everyone else since it contains her deepest thoughts and secrets about the people around her.
So, does Nickelodeon Movies do justice with this book to movie adaptation or should it be put on file never to be discussed again? This isÂ Harriet the Spy.
The movie starts off with Harriet Welsch (played by Michelle Trachtenberg) spying the local people in an outdoor farmer’s market. She describes and writes on her notebook on what she’s witnessing. Then she concludes her sentence with the following “I learn everything I can and I write everything I see. Golly says that I want to be a writer, then I better start now. Which is why I am a spy.”
Then she makes her way to school where she meets up with her friends Simon “Sport Rocque (played by Gregory Smith) and Janie Gibbs (played by Vanessa Lee Chester). While giving themselves a “secret tattoo”, their arch school enemy Marion Hawthorne (played by Charlotte Sullivan) says “good morning” to them in a snobby way. While the bell rings for class, Harriet explains via narration about her classmates and her teacher. The teacher Miss Elson (played by Nancy Beatty) explains about the nomination of the sixth grade class president between Harriet and Marion. Marion wins, which leaves Harriet disappointed since one of the duties of being the president is being an editor of the school newspaper. After class, she goes on her “spy route” to spy on the people from her neighborhood who consists of a man who has many cats in his small apartment to a Chinese family who own the neighborhood supermarket to their middle age delivery boy giving vegetables to an unknown person. Harriet calls him “the veggie thief”.
After her “spy route” finishes, Harriet meets up with Sport and Janie in her house where they wait for her. Harriet’s nanny Golly (played by Rosie O’ Donnell) takes them to her friend Mrs. W’s house to explore and play in her yard. The yard is filled with many things to do from blowing bubbles to dressing up in funny clothes.
At night, Harriet’s parents are mostly not at home since they attend dinner parties so her and Golly always have fun conversations and discussions. Golly has been the Welsch’s nanny ever since Harriet was born, so they have a special connection with one another. In fact, Golly is the only one who knows the full details on Harriet’s spy route and encourages her to do it if she feels that writing is her passion.
One night while Harriet and Golly are making dinner, a visitor comes to the house. It turns out to be the middle aged supermarket delivery boy that Harriet was spying on. He happens to be a man named George Waldenstein who’s Golly’s date. While George explains how he came to be a middle aged delivery boy, Golly accidentally burns the dinner and George declares of taking them out for dinner and a movie. Golly doesn’t think it’s a good idea, but George and Harriet begged her to do so. She accepts. It doesn’t turn out well since the parents get home before they do. They’re furious that Golly took Harriet in the middle of the night without their consent. For that reason, she was fired. Afterwards, they changed their minds, but Golly had decided that since Harriet is old enough to no longer need a nanny, it was time for her to go.
Meanwhile, things are very sad for Harriet ever since Golly left. She feels that something is missing with her life and things aren’t turning out very well for her. The neighbors she was spying on are going through rough times and there’s even a point in which she gets caught. She goes inside a rich woman’s house (played by Eartha Kitt) to spy on her. It’s actually one of my favorite moments in the movie. Why? Because Eartha Kitt’s in it and she’s awesome!
Things turn for the worse when she decides to go to the park and play tag with her classmates. Harriet misplaces her notebook and Marion finds it on the ground. She gathers up the remaining classmates and they start reading the notebook filled with Harriet’s secrets and thoughts about her friends. The notes are not nice ones, they’re even to the point of being insulting and mean spirited. When Harriet, Janie, and Sport see that Marion has Harriet’s notebook, Marion reads the contents of the notebook containing about Janie and Sport. It talked about how Janie is a total nutcase with her crazy scienceÂ experimentsÂ and how Sport and his father are poor. They feel insulted and no longer become Harriet’s friend. They instead sided with Marion and the other classmates who had their feelings hurt by Harriet’s notebook. Also, since she concentrates on writing notes than paying attention in school, Harriet’s parents decide to confiscate her new notebook and forbids her from writing.
To get revenge on Harriet, they decided to form a new club called “The Spy Catcher’s Club” which they do mean things to Harriet to make her miserable. From passing mean notes to following her on her “spy route” to spilling paint on her, Harriet feels the pain that she had caused her friends.
Instead of Harriet apologizing to her classmates about the notebook, she decides to get revenge on them as well. She targets each classmate at a time and comes up with a special punishment. After completing them, she still feels guilty inside. But everything starts to look up when Golly comes over for a visit. Harriet explains her situation and Golly gives her two bits of advice to solve the problem. “You have to apologize and you have to lie. Sometimes a really small lie can be a really big help.”
So Harriet visits Sport and Janie and try to apologize to them, but they don’t want her around and they don’t even listen to her. Harriet feels that all hope is lost.
Meanwhile at the Spy Catchers’ Club, they become real bored and are sick of taking Marion’s orders. Eventually, Sport and Janie quit the club. One by one, most of the kids do the same. The next day in class, Harriet decides that it isn’t fair that one person should be the class president since she feels that everyone deserves a chance to try it. Marion objects. Miss Elson tells the students if they want someone else to be president. One of the students, whose known for not talking, stands up and says that Harriet should be the president since she’s a good writer and has a different perspective of the world that people should consider reading. The rest of the class agrees and Harriet becomes the new class president. She writes her apologies on the paper and about the people she spies on. Her paper becomes an instant success and her, Sport, and Janie become friends again.
Overall, while the movie is quite close to the original book, there are some major issues with this movie. First off, the pacing. It’s way too slow and some of the characters’ inclusions and scenes are pretty unnecessary and pointless. For example, in the original book, we’re only giving slightÂ descriptions of the classmates and the people she spies on. In the movie, they put in way too many characters in it and most of them aren’t even developed. The addition of the classmates and the people she spies on aren’t developed enough, yet they’re added in so that it makes the movie longer. So this decision drags the movie at a snail’s pace and that’s not fun.
Not to mention that Michelle Trachtenberg looks absolutely nothing like Harriet from the book. Harriet Welsch from the book has short hair, wears hoodies, and glasses. Harriet in the movie does not. That’s like if Harry Potter was portrayed as a blond hair, blue-eyed surfer dude in the movies. Well, at least they got her spy belt correctly and yes, she wears hoodies. However, you can’t even see it very well due to the big, puffy yellow coat she wears. She doesn’t wear that coat in the book. Who does she think she is when wearing that? Dick Tracy?
This is what Harriet looks like.
Also, I have an issue about Golly’s advice to lie to her friends in order for her to win them back. Harriet, while claiming that the notes about her classmates were lies, really doesn’t deserve them back. She had wrote insulting things about them. They weren’t light insults, but real heavy ones. Also instead of apologizing first, she decided to play their game and do mean punishments on them. You do thatÂ afterÂ the apologizing doesn’t work, not before. It just shows you that you’re no better than they are. So, instead of being honest and truthful when apologizing to them, you lie about it. What’s the point of including this piece of advice? If kids were in Harriet’s situation and decide to lie while apologizing, that not only makes you a mean spirited person, but that also makes you a pathological liar. Which means you can’t be trusted even if you are saying the truth. I’m sorry, I find this to be a huge flaw that shouldn’t be overlooked.
As for the soundtrack, it tries to go for a jazzy ska-like feel. It’s okay, just not memorable.Â The acting is real nice and the main characters are quite likable. Even the minor ones are really good, especially Eartha Kitt’s character. Nonetheless, this movie is something that I would not recommend checking out.
Before you sawÂ Harriet the SpyÂ when watching it, you got to see a pilot episode for one of Nickelodeon’s upcoming cartoons. Tune in next time as we discuss all about it.
Hope to see you around Old School Lane soon. Thanks for reading.