I saw the new Disney film Holes last night. The film is directed by Andrew Davis (The Fugitive) and written by Louis Sachar based on his book. I’m kind of out of the loop of kids literature these days, but I understand from the production notes, that Holes was a huge hit in book form. Clearly the pre-teens with whom the studio packed the press screening, were very excited. Every time a new character was introduced, they got all excited the way people do whenever the movies flesh out a beloved literary character.
Set in a desert reform school for boys, the story is actually pretty fun and sweet. I think its appeal to kids can be understood as an attraction for the vision of community — even if imperfect — that the film follows in the group of boys in Tent D. Belonging to a loving or at least stable community is the most compelling fantasy for young people today, and is the real draw behind the spate of supernatural projects that kids have been flocking to in the last few years. (I wrote about this in relation to Harry Potter here.) From a literary standpoint, the story works because of the endless, absurd loose ends, which the author succeeds in bringing all together as lynchpins to the final resolution of the story. It is clever, and original in many respects.
The film falls short in its screenplay. The writer here is a novelist who doesn’t get yet how to fill out characters in a visual way on the screen. There really isn’t much for Sigourney Weaver, playing the evil warden, to do. Tim Blake Nelson does as good a job as he can with a character who morphs from friendliness into badness without any real reason. Jon Voight is strange and wonderful as the head honcho of the warden, but his arc is pretty flat, as is that of all the adult characters. The point of the film is the adventure of the main character, young Stanley Yelnats, who in choosing friendship and finally self-sacrifice for his friend, ends up atoning for an age old failure that has cursed his family line for generations. It’s a nice message, and is delivered without foul language, nudity, sexual innuendo or violence.
This will be a fun film for kids from about 8 to 13. Parents who accompany their kids to the theater will not die, and may actually have a moderately good time.