Deadline is reporting that Warner Bros. has hired writer Matthew Johnson, the writer/director/star of this year’s Slamdance Film Festival winner The Dirties, to draft a feature adaptation of the childrens’ whodunnit series Encyclopedia Brown.
The decision strikes us as equally sensible an odd. We’ll start with the latter. Although the Encyclopedia Brown books are much loved by older generations, today’s kids are probably unfamiliar with the series, which first saw publication in 1963, and (as Deadline so astutely pointed out) might even be unfamiliar with the notion of an encyclopedia. For those unfamiliar with the series, it follows the neighborhood exploits of Leroy “Encyclopedia” Brown, the precocious son of the local police chief. For “25 cents per day, plus expenses,” Encyclopedia and his highly intelligent friend Sally Kimball solved cases big and small. Each book would leave off just before Encyclopedia revealed the answer to whatever mystery he was investigating, giving the reader the opportunity to guess the answer for himself before turning to the story’s conclusion.
Even with a lack of awareness of the subject matter, there are several factors which could be driving interest forward. First is the recent abundance of Sherlock Holmes adaptations, including the film versions starring Robert Downey, Jr., and the BBC series starring Benedict Cumberbatch. Encyclopedia Brown functions in many ways like a younger, more relatable Holmes. Second, Encyclopedia Brown is being targeted as a family film for all ages, meaning that the film will be pitching to paying parents just as much as children, and in this case nostalgia most certainly works in its favor. Finally, Encyclopedia Brown has strong franchise potential for Warner Bros. An updated line of the classic books or, perhaps more likely, a spinoff TV series could be a cheaply produced ways to capitalize on any success the film finds.
There’s still a long way to go before we’ll see young Leroy on the big screen, but for those who fondly recall trying to puzzle out the mysteries he solved will certainly be excited that he’s headed in that direction.