Not long ago, Cary Granat was turning out Hollywood moneymakers like Scream and the Scary Movie series. Then one day, as he was editing a particularly gruesome scene, he realized his daughter had entered the screening room. She was two years old, and she became deeply upset by what she saw. Granat realized he was, too. So he decided to take the advice of his grandfather, a rabbi, and make the kind of movies that reflected the world in which he wanted his children to grow up. This eventually led to Walden Media, a film company whose express goal is to make quality films that will entertain the entire family, not just the kids. One of their first strategies was to ask those in the know—such as teachers and children’s librarians—which quality children’s/young adult novels they’d like to see made into films. “Hoot” is the latest. (“Akeelah” was made by 2929 Productions, which also made “Good Night and Good Luck.”)
I’m not one for boycotts or telling other people what’s wrong with what they’re doing. But I am someone who wants to encourage people when they’re trying to do something good. Which is why I ask you, if you have the chance, to please see both "Hoot" and "Akeelah and the Bee."
The movie "Hoot" is based on the award-winning (and much loved) young adult book by the same title. It’s about a boy who is constantly moving due to his father’s job. Because of this, he’s the perpetual new kid at school, trying to fit in before he moves out.
In this case, the book and the movie open with the same incident: Roy’s life is changed for the better because a school bully knocks his head into the bus window, and causing him to notice a barefoot boy running along the road. Roy’s eventual interaction with this outsider boy and the boy’s half-sister draws him into a world of unexpected friends, including a bumbling policeman. Together they end up fighting both the school bully and a corporate bully that plans to illegally kill a field full of endangered owls and their offspring.
If all this has a slightly hippy feel to it, well, consider that the science teacher is played by Jimmy Buffet, who also supplies the music. The story is strong, though, and the young actors are good. (Although, I must add all this Hollywood teeth bonding and whitening is really distracting when the kids are supposedly misfits. Sorry. Just a pet peeve.) This one has a more comedic feel to it than "Akeelah" (how bumbling can one cop be?), and yet there’s never a dull moment.
The book is so popular, perhaps, because it makes this generation of kids feel like maybe they can fight big business and win—a message that all of us need to hear, and try to believe, once again.
“Akeelah” is a beautiful film about an 11-year-old girl from South Central Los Angeles who learns to embrace her strength, which in this case happens to be spelling. In the process she transforms the lives of those around her.
Yes, it’s one of those “spelling bee” movies, where the heroine sets her sights on the Scripps Bee in Washington. But what’s memorable about "Akeelah" are the pointed yet surprisingly gentle portraits of the adults, teens, and children in her world, as well as in neighboring wealthy Woodland Hills.
“Akeelah” is a film that doesn’t judge anyone. It looks at life realistically while allowing each character the opportunity to embrace a moment of grace—and most do, often in unexpected ways. Because of this, the ending isn’t what you expect. It’s better. My children, neither of whom care much about spelling bees, were transfixed by the story.
A lot of this has to do with the quality of the acting, as well as the story telling. Keke Palmer, the young actress who plays Akeelah, is completely genuine and never overplays her character or overemphasizes either Akeelah’s impoverished background or aspirations to rise above. It’s gratifying to see Laurence Fishburne and Angela Bassett together again, playing much different parts than they did as Ike and Tina Turner.