Does the term make you cringe? Does it fill you with dread? Is it the type of film you avoid at all costs?
Let's face it. The phrase "family film" has a lot of baggage that accompanies it. A "family film" is often believed to be a bland, generic "feel good" film with generally weak acting, simple plot and modest production values.
While the simple plot is definitely true, "Hoot" is very nearly the definition of a positive, entertaining and heartwarming family film with solid acting, beautiful cinematography, often complex production design and, by family film standards, above average acting. While "Hoot" is unlikely to win an Academy Award anytime soon, it's a marvelous film for the entire family that will entertain the children and, most likely, keep the parents interested.
In "Hoot," Roy Eberhardt (Logan Lerman) is your typical outcast teenager who finds himself relocated from the mountains of Montana to a small, sleepy town in Florida. The movie, directed by Wil Shriner, follows a fairly predictable route as Roy is first subject to bullying then, of course, finds himself observing a young man we come to know only by the name Mullet Fingers (Cody Linley). Mullet Fingers is a runaway who lives on an abandoned boat to avoid notice, but who actively initiates various forms of environmental civil disobedience to protect Florida's burrow owls. This becomes especially relevant once their natural habitat is threatened by the planned building of a pancake house. Eventually, Roy, Mullet Fingers and Fingers' sister Beatrice (Brie Larson) all join forces to save the owls.
"Hoot" is an unabashedly pro-environment film produced by Jimmy Buffett (who also adds music to the film AND makes an appearance) with support by Frank Marshall and others. The script is adapted from a Newbery Award winning children's book by Carl Hiaasen by Shriner. Hiaasen himself is also a producer on the film, and was involved throughout the production.
Despite the relatively basic plot of "Hoot," Shriner's direction keeps the film moving swiftly and there are enough intriguing, yet gentle storyline twists that "Hoot" never feels completely predictable and never has that feeling of "been there, seen that." Intellectually, it's impossible to ignore the simplicity of the storyline. Yet, the winning performances and stellar cinematography combine to create a consistently entertaining, likable and captivating film.
The performances of the young leads are uniformly strong for this genre of film, and Shriner wisely chose to use experienced actors who have great success finding the nuances of Hiaasen's story. Lerman (most recently "Bobby" in the "Bobby & Jack" TV series) offers a relaxed yet convicting performance as a teenager whose newfound calling to protect these owls is inspiring to some and frustrating to others. Both Linley and Larson also have an extensive background, mostly in lighter fare, and adapt well to characters that are young in many ways yet mature beyond their years in others.
In supporting performances, Jimmy Buffett (as Mr. Ryan, the marine science teacher) and Tim Blake Nelson (as the bad guy, "Curly") do a nice job in fairly standard roles. Perhaps most impressive is Luke Wilson, as Officer Delinko, an officer investigating the acts of civil disobedience. Delinko, while obviously not the brightest man, never becomes a caricature in Wilson's hand. Instead, he becomes an entertaining, nearly worthy adversary for the young activists.
Michael Chapman's cinematography captures beautifully the diverse, panoramic environment in Florida and also excels during the numerous wildlife shots. "Hoot" is worthy of a recommendation for the cinematography alone. Likewise, the production design is clean and effective throughout the film. Shriner was able, at the very last minute, to get approval to actually use burrow owls, an endangered species, during the filming and the authenticity is impossible to miss. The film's score, and especially Buffett's original music, add considerably to the film's relaxed, positive pacing and energy.
If I were to describe the overall feeling of "Hoot," I might simply refer to it as the cinematic equivalent to a Jimmy Buffett concert aimed squarely at children and youth. Have you ever been to a Buffett concert? I don't really fancy myself a true Buffett fan (No, I'm not a "parrothead"), but it's impossible to go to one of his concerts and not get caught up in the heart and spirit of the occasion.
"Hoot" is very much the same way. It's an entertaining, easygoing "feel good" film that is squarely and proudly aimed at pleasing the entire family in much the same way as the film "Holes" did a couple years ago.
The filmmakers are also backing up their environmentally friendly message on the film's website at Hoot. As a perfect accompaniment to the film, children can adopt a "cyber" owl on the site, and with each adoption a donation is made to the National Wildlife Federation.
So, if you give a "Hoot" about a well-done, entertaining film for the entire family head on out to your local theatre on May 5 when "Hoot" is released nationwide.