Kids take on developers to protect endangered owls in this mildly pleasant story based on the award-winning book by Carl Hiaasen. Parents will admire some of the messages — care for the environment, self-reliance, loyalty, and communication skills. But they will be less pleased with a one-sided, ends-justify-the-means approach that suggests that any action taken on behalf of endangered species is justified.
“Six schools in the last eight years? What are you, in the Witness Protection Program?”
14-year-old Roy (Logan Lerman) felt at home for the first time in Montana among the horses and the mountains. He is not at all happy about being uprooted to Florida, about as different from Montana as you can get.
It doesn’t help that there’s a big, mean bully on the schoolbus. But Roy is not afraid of him. He is curious, though, about a boy he sees running very fast, barefoot, and about a girl who seems angry at him but won’t tell him why.
It turns out Beatrice (Brie Larson) and her step-brother Mullet Fingers (Cody Linley) have a lot of secrets. For one, he is supposed to be away at boarding school. And for another, he is the one who has been vandalizing the site for a new pancake house to hold up construction because he wants to protect some burrowing owls.
Despite the efforts of the bully, an earnest but dim policeman (Luke Wilson), and an executive with the pancake company who has a secret of his own, the three kids find a way to bring about a happy ending for everyone, especially the owls.
All of the kids have a nice, natural quality and an easy chemistry with each other. Co-producer Jimmy Buffett appears as their marine biology teacher. He’s no actor, but it is so clear they all are enjoying themselves that it makes us want to enjoy them, too.
One of the movie’s great strengths is the way Roy avoids many of the usual problems of middle schoolers — especially those in movies. He is not afraid of the bully or of Beatrice. His frankness and courtesy in talking to her about the way she treats him is something every teenager can learn from — and a few parents, too. Roy’s parents trust and respect him, even when his behavior concerns them. This partially makes up for some cheesy slapstick and caricatured bad guys, but the superficial approach to the issues and casual attitude toward dangerous and illegal behavior by the kids undermines the story’s credibility. Nature boy Mullet Fingers may be all about protecting those darling owls, but he doesn’t seem too concerned about the poisonous snakes he captures or the dogs he sics them on. Or the humans they might easily reach.
Parents should know that the movie has some schoolyard language (“screwing up”) and some bullying and name-calling. Roy is derisively called “Cowgirl.” Parents should also know that the children’s behavior in the movie raises many parental concerns, including vandalism, theft, lying, truancy, and violence.
Families who see this movie should talk about whether the ends here (protecting the owls) justified the means (breaking the rules and the law). When do you cross the line? What consequences must you be prepared to accept? Families should also learn more about the Endangered Species Protection Program and about things that kids can do to help protect the environment.
Families who enjoy this film should read the book and see Al Gore’s new movie, An Inconvenient Truth. They will also enjoy Holes. And they should listen to my podcast interview with co-star Brie Larson.