Carl Hiaasen is a prolific writer whose books have been made into movies before. OK, only one of his many novels, “Strip Tease”, has been sent to the silver screen and that was something of a critical disaster. His second book to be given the Hollywood treatment swings the other way. I don’t mean it’s any better; it’s just aimed at kids instead of adults.
Mother Paula’s Pancake House is getting ready to open its 100th regional store. Ruthless corporate executive Chuck Muckle will do anything to ensure that this record breaking achievement cements his place in the Mother Paula Hall of Fame, even if it means flouting the law. A collection of burrowing owl nests is the only thing standing in his way and he means to bull doze through the endangered species’ burrows before anyone is the wiser.
Enter Roy Eberhardt. His father’s job moves the family to a new state every couple of years, a fact that has made it hard for Roy to make any close friends. One day, while having his face shoved into a bus window by the school bully, Roy sees a barefoot kid running down the sidewalk faster than anyone he’s ever seen before. His efforts to figure out this boy’s identity land Roy in the middle of a desperate battle to save the owl community Muckle is trying to destroy. Along the way Roy discovers the meaning of friendship and learns about standing up for what’s right. Unfortunately, his friends are outlaws, his purpose is slightly tainted, and his methods in standing up for what’s right are almost entirely wrong.
That sort of set up works well for a movie like Goonies where the kids are scoundrels and the biggest thing at stake (apart from their lives) is a lost treasure. Hoot has loftier aspirations but doesn’t have the means to afford its higher ground. Roy is an upstanding kid with good judgment. At stake are the ideals of obeying the law and standing up for those who can’t fight for themselves. Those are very noble and necessary codes to live by in the real world, but in this movie they’re one huge hypocritical mess. Roy and his friends routinely flout authority and break the law in an effort to force Muckle to obey the very legal system they prefer to ignore. It’s the kind of vigilante message that works fine in V for Vendetta, but not so well in a kids’ flick. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, though. After all, this is a movie produced by Jimmy Buffet.
Despite its duplicitous premise, the film does hit some rather nice notes that hold valuable lessons for its young target audience. Roy manages to point out that saving the planet doesn’t have to entail the cessation of development and progress. His effort is to save something beautiful. He doesn’t want the pancake house to not be built, just built somewhere else. Scattered throughout the movie are eye-catching moments that showcase some of Florida’s natural beauty. You’re also kidding yourself if you don’t think those little owls aren’t disarmingly cute. They’re the story’s most powerful argument for fighting to save parts of nature to be enjoyed without the presence of strip malls and tourist hotels.
All that scenery is pleasant enough, but the Jimmy Buffet sound track gets really old, really fast. No doubt the younger kids won’t even notice, but the grown ups will likely start looking for napkins to cram in their ears around the third Buffet song. Don’t let that or anything else be an excuse to send the kiddos in without adult supervision. The younger ones are going to need a reminder at the end that fighting for what’s right is a good thing, but not if you’re going to ignore all the rules in the process of trying to prove someone else is breaking one. Actually, save yourself the money and the headache and take the kids to enjoy the real outdoors instead. You could even plant a tree. No doubt Jimmy would approve, but even if he didn’t, who gives a…well, you know.