Film Adaptations of Young Adult Literature: Hoot

by Carl Hiaasen
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Last Updated on January 13, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1724

The Book

Author: Carl Hiaasen (b. 1953)

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First published: 2002

The Film

Director: Wil Shriner (b. 1953)

Screenplay by: Wil Shriner

Starring: Logan Lerman, Brie Larson, Cody Linley, and Luke Wilson

Context

Film and fiction about environmental issues have become increasingly popular in the midst of growing concerns about pollution, climate change, and destruction of wildlife and their natural habitats. Such concerns are at the heart of many of Carl Hiaasen's writings for young adults, including Hoot. The publication in 2013 of Alice Curry's book Environmental Crisis in Young Adult Fiction: A Poetics of Earth is another sign of growing interest in this topic, not only by scholars but especially by filmmakers and creative writers. Hoot is just one of numerous books and films from the last several decades that highlight the potentially important roles young people can play in trying to preserve the environment.

Even contemporary fiction and films that do not advocate explicitly for environmental protection often do so indirectly. Dystopian writings and movies—works that depict dark, corrupt, dysfunctional societies—often present destruction of the environment as a background issue, if not as a central theme. The worlds of dystopian fiction are often both morally and environmentally ugly. Works featuring such worlds usually imply that the ethical corruption of human beings can lead to the environmental destruction of the planet. Rarely is evil associated with imagery of natural beauty. Far more often than not, moral, political, and spiritual failings are set within ugly, unnatural environments. Neither the film, released in 2006, nor the book version of Hoot presents much dark, revolting ugliness, either ethically or environmentally. Instead, both works highlight threatened natural beauty rather than showing the aftermath of its actual destruction. This is especially true of the film.

Another important issue dealt with both in the book and in the film is the issue of bullying. This problem has become far more visible in the years since Hiaasen composed his novel. Bullying, both in person and online, has become such a serious concern that the treatment of it in both the movie and the book can seem a bit comic or whimsical. The bullying presented in Hoot does not lead—as it often leads in real life—to real physical injury, severe psychological damage, deep depression, suicide, or violent revenge. While the novel and film are comedies, not serious examinations of the torment many young people suffer at school, the bullying depicted (especially in the film) is often jarring, and the narrow escapes and happy outcomes presented can make both the movie and the book appear unrealistic to the point of seeming naive.

Film Analysis

Except for omissions of some peripheral characters and major changes near the end, the film version of Hoot follows the novel fairly faithfully. Middle schooler Roy Eberhardt (Logan Lerman) and his parents (Neil Flynn and Kiersten Warren) have moved from the mountains of Montana to their latest new home, this time in Florida. They move frequently because of Roy's father's job. Roy, as the new kid at school, is immediately picked on by a thuggish bully named Dana (Eric Phillips), who makes Roy's life increasingly miserable. Dana's opposite, in many ways, is a mysterious youth whom Roy sees running one day. He runs at enormous speed and without wearing shoes. Increasingly intrigued by this almost phantom figure, Roy eventually discovers that the boy (Cody Linley), nicknamed Mullet Fingers, is the stepbrother of one of Roy's schoolmates, the imposing, athletic Beatrice (Brie Larson).

Mullet Fingers is trying, in increasingly bold ways, to sabotage construction of a new pancake restaurant on a site populated by rare burrowing owls. A policeman, Officer Delinko (Luke Wilson), ineptly investigates the damage the property is suffering. He is urged on by the construction site foreman (Tim Blake Nelson), who in turn is under pressure from his boss, Mr. Muckle (Clark Gregg). Ultimately, thanks to the combined efforts of Roy, Mullet Fingers, and Beatrice, construction is stopped, the owls are saved, and everyone (except Muckle) is happy. The film adheres well to the basic plot and characterization of the novel, although Officer Delinko is a far more obviously comic figure in the film than in the book.

One distinct advantage of the film over the novel is the film's ability to show the beauty of nature. The film opens, for instance, with a panoramic overhead shot of the splendors of Montana, with its stunning mountains, enormous fields, and abundant wildlife. Roy narrates the film (he is presented more objectively in the third person in the novel), and so the audience literally hears, from time to time, in Roy's own voice, what he is feeling and thinking. The overhead shots of Montana are immediately followed by similarly beautiful overhead panoramas of the beauties of Florida. The film thus subtly emphasizes, from the very beginning, the theme of natural beauty—a theme crucial to the plots of both the film and the book.

Instantly after the film features these magnificent shots of nature, it shows Roy, on a school bus, being tormented by the bully. The bus is thus associated with oppression and humiliation, in contrast to the freedom and openness of the great outdoors. Paradoxically, while Roy's face is crammed against a window by the bully, he first sees Mullet Fingers running alongside the bus, barefoot, and at amazing speed. The mysterious boy's hair is long, blonde, and free flowing; young and handsome, he is symbolically associated with liberty and is literally in close contact with the environment.

Equally attractive is blond Beatrice, Mullet Fingers's stepsister, but she is tough and can easily handle Dana. In the film, far more obviously than in the book, the three young heroic figures are all physically attractive, while the clear villain (Dana) is anything but. The film thus buys into standard stereotypes that associate good looks with good character. Mullet Fingers, the handsome young blond, is assisted by Beatrice, his attractive blond stepsister, and Roy, a good-looking young brunet. Roy seems the personification of wide-eyed innocence. These good-looking characters are selfless in their determination to save the cute burrowing owls, while Dana, the ugly bully, seems to care about no one and nothing but himself. His abuse of Roy makes him resemble, in some ways, the environmentally abusive Mr. Muckle. Both characters are enormously self-centered, and the film seems to imply that Muckle is the result when a bully like Dana becomes an adult. Dana's malevolent abuse of poor Roy resembles Muckle's calculated, deliberate abuse of the environment.

Among the most effective scenes in the film are some that show the developing friendship between Roy and Mullet Fingers. As the latter escorts Roy on tours of Florida's rivers, swamps, and ocean coasts, the filmmakers take full advantage of aerial shots and close-ups of natural beauty and intriguing wildlife. The growing bond between Roy and his new friend develops against background shots of stunning natural beauty. While happy, upbeat music plays in the background, the characters are silent—viewers see their growing connection rather than hear Roy explain it or comment on it.

The film reveals, much sooner than the novel, that Mullet Fingers is behind the sabotage of the construction site and that his motive is to protect the owls. The film also emphasizes slapstick comedy more than the book does, although the book is full of satiric wit. Both the book and the film lack much character development or diversity and are generally very straightforward and conventional in the ways they tell their stories. Mostly playing by very traditional cinematic rules, the film even uses fade-outs to black to indicate a transition from one day to the next.

Significance

The film version of Hoot is estimated to have cost about $15 million to make. It grossed roughly $8 million initially, although later sales via DVDs and other media brought in more money. Therefore, the film was anything but a great financial success, and its critical reception was not spectacular either. Most critics found it well intended but uninspired; a few praised it for encouraging young people to think about preserving the environment. One environmentalist, Larry J. Schweiger, called Hoot “a great film for the whole family and a reminder that we can make a difference for wildlife if we are willing to take a stand.” The movie failed, however, to win much praise as a cinematic feature in itself.

Films about young people and the environment are likely to become more and more important in coming years as environmental degradation becomes an increasingly important political and cultural issue. If predictions of the dire consequences of climate change prove true (as many scientists believe is already happening), it is hard to see how environmental issues can fail to become the subject of widespread concern, debate, and fear. Hollywood will undoubtedly see potential profit in these developments, and so Hoot may eventually be seen as an early forerunner of a genre of films that is likely to grow in importance.

The fact that Hoot targeted a particularly young audience (youths in their early rather than later teens) may also set a precedent for later films. Kate Kelly, writing for the Wall Street Journal, noted that Hoot premiered in the same year as Happy Feet and Ice Age: The Meltdown, two successful family films with similar environmental motifs. Young people, in particular, have the most to lose if the environment is severely damaged or destroyed. They will also have the greatest incentives to try to repair or reverse some of the damage that has already been done—if repairs and reversals are even possible.

Further Reading

  • Hiaasen, Carl. “We Interview.” Interview by Ron Charles. Washington Post. Washington Post, 21 May 2006. Web. 19 Mar. 2015. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/05/19/AR2006051901408.html>.
  • Magrs, Paul. “Owl Trouble.” Rev. of Hoot, by Carl Hiaasen. Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 22 Feb. 2003. Web. 19 Mar. 2015. <http://www.theguardian.com/books/2003/feb/22/featuresreviews.guardianreview28>.

Bibliography

  • Curry, Alice. Environmental Crisis in Young Adult Fiction: A Poetics of Earth. New York: Palgrave, 2013. Print.
  • Kelly, Kate. “The New Animated Film ‘Happy Feet’ Doesn't Dance Around Serious Issues.” Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones, 17 Nov. 2006. Web. 19 Mar. 2015. <http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB116373257478225933>.
  • Schweiger, Larry J. “Kids and Wildlife—A Perfect Big Screen Combination.” National Wildlife Federation. Natl. Wildlife Federation, 10 Apr. 2006. Web. 19 Mar. 2015. <http://blog.nwf.org/2006/04/kids-and-wildlife-%E280%93-a-perfect-big-screen-combination>.

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