In a relatively short time, Walden Media has established itself as a family-friendly powerhouse by producing high-grade screen adaptations of children's book classics, including delightful films like "Because of Winn-Dixie," "Holes" and last year's hugely successful "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe."
Walden's newest offering, "Hoot" (New Line), based on Carl Hiaasen's 2003 Newbery recipient and directed by Wil Shriner, fits the wholesome mold of those films, but the end result is less satisfying.
Set in the smalltown Floridian hamlet of Coconut Grove, the story centers on perennial "new kid" Roy Eberhardt (Logan Lerman), an eighth-grader adjusting to his family's sixth move in eight years. While he resents the constant uprooting, Roy has a loving relationship with his mom (Kiersten Warren) and dad (Neil Flynn), whose job with the Justice Department accounts for their map-hopping.
During a painful "welcome" at the hands of a schoolyard bully, Roy spies a fleet-footed wild boy (Cody Linley) outrunning the school bus. Intrigued, his curiosity leads him to befriend tough-girl Beatrice (Brie Larson), who guardedly reveals that the enigmatic sprinter -- known only as "Mullet Fingers" -- is her stepbrother.
The secretive siblings enlist Roy in their crusade to save a colony of burrowing owls, whose habitat is threatened by a real-estate developer who hopes to bulldoze the endangered birds' nesting zone to make way for a flapjack franchise.
Likable Luke Wilson provides comic relief as the bumbling sheriff's deputy who's in charge of investigating the trio's attempts to sabotage the construction site, and Robert Wagner has a cameo as the town's oily mayor.
The three young actors, especially Larson, are bright and buoyant, and Hiaasen's tale imparts a warm and breezy message about friendship, respect for nature and taking a stand for what's right: hardly what you'd expect from the author of the sex comedy "Striptease" (made into a 1996 movie starring Demi Moore). Though the children's vandalism and occasional disregard for authority may ruffle some feathers, parents will find the amiable movie's noncynical tone refreshing.
These positive elements are handicapped somewhat by a weak script and a slow-starting plot, and the saucer-eyed critters get very little screen time.
But with quality family entertainment an endangered species, it's worth giving a "hoot" to movies that buck the trend.
The film contains some schoolyard bullying and a few mildly crass expressions. The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-I -- general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG -- parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
These movies have been evaluated for artistic merit and moral suitability by the media reviewing division of Catholic News Service. The reviews include the CNS rating, the Motion Picture Association of America rating, and a brief synopsis of the movie.
The classifications are as follows:
A-I -- general patronage;
A-II -- adults and adolescents;
A-III -- adults;
L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. L replaces the previous classification, A-IV.
O -- morally offensive.
Note: Some movies previously were designated A-IV. Older films with this classification should be regarded as classified L.