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The Order of Oddfish

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90-Second Newbery, Monster Edition: Godzilla-Style Hoot and Knee-Knock Rise

November 12, 2012

The 90-Second Newbery Film Festival‘s first screening, in New York City, is just around the corner on December 2! Complete details here. With special guests Jon Scieszka, Newbery winners Kate DiCamillo, Rita Williams-Garcia, and Margi Preus, and illustrators Dan Yaccarino and Brian Floca!

The deadline for entries has passed, and I have tons of fantastic entries that I’ll be sharing in the next few weeks. But if you’re still sitting on an entry that you haven’t turned in yet, go ahead and send it along! It’s okay if it’s a few days late. We run a pretty loose, forgiving ship here.

One of the things I like best is when filmmakers do their 90-Second Newbery in the style of a different genre than the book. For example, Carl Hiaasen’s 2003 Newbery Honor Book Hoot is about small-town Florida kids who disrupt the construction of a pancake house restaurant with pranks (alligator in the toilet, painting the windows of police car, stealing the seats of the bulldozers) in order to save the habitat of some owls. Madison Ross of Rochester, New York had a great idea for a twist: to film Hoot in the style of a Godzilla movie! (Madison is a returning veteran of the 90-Second Newbery. Check out her great A Single Shard from last year’s festival.)

Check Madison’s Hoot above! I’m bowled over! The “dubbing” effect made even the straight lines funny. (And the funny lines are legitimately funny: “Why are you hitting me?” “Subplot!”) There are so many careful details, from the many soundtrack cues (from Godzilla to Raiders of the Lost Ark to Harry Potter) and special effects (with not one, not two, not three, but four exploding toilets). The little touches are what make this: the boy repeatedly flailing in front of a bulldozer like a conductor, the alligator in the toilet, the snakes actually moving, the raucous crowd scene, the Harry Potter joke about “failing the O.W.L.S.” (including soundtrack cue!). Most importantly, Madison (and Ella, Alex, Olivia, Mark, Bobby, and Lucas) tells the story of what happened in the book in an entertaining-yet-economical way, all in under 90 seconds! (I love the credits sequence, too. where everyone’s saying “watermelon watermelon” so their mouths are moving convincingly for the dubbing. The way Madison barks “watermelon” after tearing off a piece of tire is choice.)

Madison transformed Hoot into a monster movie, but there actually is a Newbery winner that is itself about an (imagined) monster, and a community’s response to it. The book is Natalie Babbitt’s 1971 Newbery Honor Book Knee-Knock Rise. I particularly appreciate it when filmmakers choose older, more obscure Newbery winners to adapt, and this one is a a great choice!

The story is set in a small village. A boy named Egan has come here to visit relatives. The villagers are scared by the noises that come from a nearby mountain, but nobody has ever tried to figure out the source of the sound. The villagers believe a monster called the “Megrimum” lives up there, and that they must supplicate it through rituals and sacrifices.

Egan climbs the mountain to investigate the source of the noises. He discovers that there is no Megrimum. It’s just a boiling spring inside a cave that echos when it rains. Egan tries to inform everyone the “Megrimum” doesn’t exist, but everyone in town accuses him of lying.

Check it out:

Wonderful work! This film was created by rising 4th and 5th grade students at a summer day camp in Asheville, North Carolina. They read the book, created the script, scouted locations, created props and special effects, and filmed in eighteen hours over five days, and they really pulled out all the stops with this one! I loved the “special effects” of the flying cat and the smoke coming out of the cave. And the terrifying figure at the window was, well, actually kind of terrifying! The sound design was really good too, especially the howling of the Megrimum. (In the credits, it says nobody was harmed making this movie, except for Henry. What happened to Henry?!)

I loved it! Another winner—well scripted, well shot, and in particular, well-acted! These kids are naturals, and I’m told this summer camp will be making a 90-Second Newbery next year too. I can’t wait!