Melissa Morris (Emily Osment) is a young teenager pining for some attention from her preoccupied father, Neil (George Newbern), a best-selling author with an ego to match his sales figures. Having long felt overshadowed by her dad’s fictional spy hero Tripp Zoome (Jonathan Keltz), Melissa hopes their long-delayed father-daughter vacation will be a chance to win him back. Her hopes are dashed however, when Neil reroutes their destination to a Tripp Zoome convention held in a small town hotel by outlandishly quiffed proprietor Merv (Jason Earles), and is then kidnapped by obsessive young fans, Wheeze (David Henrie), Andre (Moisés Arias) and Sheldon (Denzel Whitaker). Melissa rides off to the rescue, little suspecting that a second pair of kidnappers, interracial brothers Maurice (Phill Lewis) and Skunk (Charles Hartford), are lying in wait with more sinister intent.
This Disney Channel TV movie seems to exist at least partly to cast an array of sitcom stars in atypical roles. Dadnapped has Hanna Montana stars Emily Osment (younger sister of Haley Joel Osment of The Sixth Sense (1999) fame), Moisés Arias and Jason Earles as earnest young heroine, tween techno-geek and scheming sleazebag respectively, while Wizards of Waverly Place favourite David Henrie is the klutzy kidnapper and The Suite Life of Zach and Cody’s avuncular Phill Lewis plays a hard-bitten, if equally inept criminal. Indeed the film was promoted as something along the lines of “your favourite Disney stars as you’ve never seen them before.” If only some substance lay behind that statement.
Dadnapped shares certain thematic preoccupations with the superior Disney effort Read It and Weep (2006) also directed by Paul Hoen, in that both films involve young heroines interacting with fantasy figures who serve as their unfettered alter-egos. Tripp Zoome periodically pops up to dispense crime-solving advice or else bickers with Melissa like an errant sibling. There is solid dramatic potential in having Melissa worry Tripp is secretly the son her father always wanted, till she discovers Neil modelled most of the character’s dynamic qualities on his daughter. However, this intriguing aspect is poorly developed and virtually tacked-on.
After the initial kidnapping, the story runs out of steam surprisingly quickly and soon starts to meander. Despite some mild suspense, a shock twist or two and a half-hearted romance struck up between Melissa and Wheeze, events slowly lose our interest. What good jokes there are often centre around the endearingly game-for-a-laugh Jason Earles, who again demonstrates he can take a pratfall like nobody else. The climax winningly recalls the Ealing Studios classic Hue and Cry (1947), as hundreds of squirt gun wielding children chase the surprise villain out of town. Emily Osment’s inherent likeability keeps things watchable, though her character is perhaps understandably more sullen than her usually sunny self. More smiles from Emily next time, Disney.