I suppose that when a TV show runs something like 35 years, you’re bound to run into some episodes that feel like they were just thrown on the air to fulfill whatever commitment the production company had to the network for original programming. Disneyland, after all, couldn’t exactly run Pinocchio, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea or Pollyanna once a month. Sometimes you had to rely on that tried and true variation of kids getting mixed up in small time crime that could be resolved in two one hour long episodes.
Mystery in Dracula’s Castle was an example. So was The Secret of Boyne Castle, though that took a marathon-like three episodes for Kurt Russell to solve. And perhaps most successful of all, despite being remembered by virtually no one, was Secret of the Pirates’ Inn. How else to explain that they made a sequel? And went to the time and expense of actually securing the rights to a short story that’s part of a well known series and is still in print today?
The Strange Monster Of Strawberry Cove is based on “The Strange Sea Monster of Strawberry Lake” by Bertrand Brinley and is featured in his book, The Mad Scientists’ Club. Brinley’s stories detailed the adventures of a group of kids who usually got mixed up in schemes that had them using fairly sophisticated technology and equipment for the time in which the stories were written.
Brinley was an engineer and his use of real life gizmos and science helped to make the stories a cut above the usual juvenile fare of the day. Disney of course ditched everything except the sea monster and tossed in some smugglers! Then, just to make sure things really stunk like a nervous dog stuck inside a papier mache sea monster, Disney had all the characters we either loathed (Catfish) or were indifferent to (everyone else) from Secret of the Pirates’ Inn reprise their roles!
It all starts out lamely enough with a school camping and bird watching trip down to old Strawberry Cove. Actual actors Burgess Meredith and Agnes Moorehead chaperone things as an old fool schoolteacher and the town’s resident prig, respectively.
Their characters are strictly one note, with Meredith’s character being particularly annoying because of his idiotic insistence to all the townspeople that he saw a sea monster down at the cove, even though the likely explanation is that it was probably a boat that just sort of looked like a sea monster. It was hard to argue with Moorehead’s character’s contention that the old coot shouldn’t be teaching the town’s kids since he obviously needs a pair of Depends for his head, lest his mental incontinence continue to get the best of him.
The three kids and dog (Tramp) from Secret of the Pirates’ Inn come to his defense by going out and building a sea monster to prove him right. You would think that the very fact that kids felt the need to invent a sea monster to save their teacher is also their way of tacitly acknowledging that he is a crazy moron, but the kids never appear to be aware of that. Who cares about all that when you’ve got an old paddle boat and branches you can turn into a really kick ass looking Loch Ness Monster? Or when Catfish goes and accidentally walks on an alligator!
It’s while hanging out at the Cove and abusing gators that the kids stumble onto a smuggling ring. Someone is using the old abandoned shack the mayor owns to store a bunch of artifacts stolen from a Mexican museum. As they did in the first movie, the kids dutifully report this to the local sheriff who dutifully disbelieves them, but checks it out anyway. He doesn’t find anything and tells the kids to knock off their activity down at the cove. Things get ramped again though after the teacher has his camera stolen which has pictures of the sea monster in it and when the kids lure the sheriff down to the Cove to see their sea monster.
While much of the movie is too much talk about firing the teacher, watching the bad guys run their mouths enough to give the kids all the information they need to bust up the smuggling ring, and the sheriff pooh-poohing everything about what’s going on, the movie does deliver some entertaining moments near its end.
The sheriff again demonstrates the law enforcement acumen that had him accidentally discharging his weapon and driving the kids to an unsecured crime scene in the previous film when he argues with the smugglers about whether he can arrest them without any proof of the smuggling. This argument takes place only AFTER the sheriff has escaped from being bound and gagged and dumped in the mayor’s shack by the smugglers. Apparently, he’s giving them a free pass on that kidnapping charge. Even worse though is the free pass he’s giving them for holding poor old Tramp hostage inside the sea monster!
Catfish also manages to get off the best line of the movie when after the head smuggler is revealed to be the guy that runs the drug store, he announces that he’s boycotting the guy’s place, no matter how much chocolate syrup he uses in his malts!
Even by the low standards of bad 1970s Disney TV movies, this one is devoid of all but the most bland action (the big finish involves a counter being slammed down on a guy’s hand) and the sea monster barely gets any play at all. Somehow or other, the fact that either because the teacher really did see the kids’ monster or because he helped catch the smugglers or both, he gets to keep his job. Even more shocking is that the sheriff got to keep his job!
The smugglers are also exactly just the kind of smugglers you would expect to be lead by a soda jerk since by stealing the teacher’s camera in an attempt to prevent any attention being drawn to Strawberry Cove, they only succeeded in lending credence to the teacher’s theory that something fishy was going on down at the Cove!
Without question, if you think you have even the slightest interest in this movie, you should just seek out Brinley’s short story collections. They’re easier to locate, much smarter, and frankly more fun than this soggy attempt at retooling it for an all too typically dimwitted Disney kiddie flick.
© 2014 MonsterHunter