"Hoot" falls short

Megan Basham

5/5/2006 12:01:00 AM - Megan Basham

“The message of the movie is not only that kids are smarter than adults, but that…it’s great to see activism at an early age.”

In the new movie Jimmy Buffet is referring to, Hoot, children are indeed smarter than a pack of bumbling, clueless and, apparently, mentally-challenged adults who are continually outwitted by the film's underage protagonists. And that activism he mentions includes vandalism, destruction of private property and kidnapping.

Few children’s films are as nakedly indoctrinating as this one. Based on the book by Miami Herald columnist Carl Hiassen, Hoot features a group of comely kids who work together to stop an evil pancake corporation from opening a restaurant on land that houses a nest of burrowing owls. In order to accomplish this task, the junior highers spray paint police cars, trash corporate equipment, and in general engage in the kind of activity that would do Earth Liberation Front proud.

Setting aside for a moment the borderline eco-terrorism the film supports, its secondary message that police aren’t to be trusted, parents are to be ignored, and teachers are only cool if they overlook a little truancy is hardly one most moms and dads will support. The last few decades have witnessed an unfortunate trend in kids’ programming of portraying children as superior to their parents. Hollywood fosters this attitude in our younger generation by feeding them storylines like the one found in Hoot, then society wonders why not one of them have any respect for adults.

As for that anti-business, environmental primary message, here’s a selection of the wisdom the juvenile trio shares with each other:

“They’re [corporations] bulldozing all across this state, to put up resorts for goober tourists.”

“There is nothing to stop [developers] from bulldozing from one coast to another."

“They’re a big corporation, they don’t care about little birds.”

“We make so much noise, with our cars and our SUVs and our bulldozers, if we could just be quiet, then we could see [birds].”

“I know we want this land, but somebody else was here first.”

And, in perhaps the ultimate illustration of extreme environmental conceit, the three youngsters look at each other in sadness, shake their heads and whimper, “We’re the only ones who care.”

*Spoiler Alert*

Toward the end of the film, it is implied that the teens’ vandalistic tendencies help enforce the law once they discover that a pancake executive illegally buried an environmental report. However, none of them know that while they’re carrying out their wave of destruction, and the irresponsible implication is break the law now, justify it later.

Thankfully, given that Hoot’s plot, pacing, and acting are so sub-par that even a made-for-Nickelodeon movie would be ashamed of it, it’s not likely to make much of an impact at the box office. And after attending the junket for the film in Fort Lauderdale, I found other reasons to feel reassured that this film’s message won’t take much hold in the hearts of adolescents, since it doesn’t appear that it was even able to fully persuade its own young cast.

Questioned whether she feels as compelled as her character to take a stand for undeveloped land, 16-year-old Brie Larson (Beatrice) reveals a level of sense many adults in her industry lack: “Depends on the area—on whether its just a flat piece of earth or if its something that really seems important to society…I mean, I wouldn’t go somewhere and go, ‘yeah, take a stand’ if I didn’t know anything about it.”

And while 16-year-old Cody Lindley describes his character, Mullet Fingers, as an outlaw willing to overlook the rules for a greater good, when asked what might motivate him to such activist lawbreaking, Lindley replies, “Well, I wouldn’t feel that way for owls, but if someone were trying to hurt my family, I don’t think I would follow all the laws.”

Lindley expresses similarly down-to-earth feelings about his native country: “I know everyone talks about how bad it is here, but overall, I’m kind of optimistic. I’m so glad to live here [in America] because compared to the rest of the word it’s really great, and I don’t think there’s a lot that’s immoral and bad about America compared to the rest of the world.”

Despite Hollywood’s best liberal programming efforts, it appears that the kids, at least these kids, really are alright.