order of oddfish cover

The Order of Oddfish


90-Second Newbery Stop-Motion/Puppet Edition, Part 2: An American Plague and The Old Tobacco Shop

Rick Kogan wrote a great article about the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival for the Chicago Tribune. During our interview (at the Billy Goat, no less!), he was classy about my impersonation of him back in December. Onward!

Today we have two more EXCELLENT stop-motion movies submitted to this year’s 90-Second Newbery Film Festival. The first, above, is by Max Lau and Jennings Mergenthal of Tacoma, WA, who last year did a hilarious Claymation send-up of the very first Newbery Medal winner, The Story of Mankind (1922). This year, they did a ingenious—and actually pretty educational—Claymation version of the 2004 Honor Book by Jim Murphy, An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793.

I love all the crazy little touches—the way the faces turn yellow and spotted when they have yellow fever, the spinning newspaper, and especially everything about George Washington: the way he looks peeved, his surreally lengthening arm, the way he slaps his underlings—beautiful! And I’m impressed at how Max and Jennings are so skilled at clay that they actually made George Washington look like George Washington, and Jefferson, Hamilton, etc. look like themselves too. Resourceful and talented artists! The panic in the Pennsylvania legislature was another high moment for me in a movie full of high moments.

If you want to see more of Max and Jenning’s work, check out their YouTube channel. Oh, and did I mention they’re only 15 years old?!

(Hungry for more American Plague? Last year I received a tremendous live-action American Plague from Chase Elementary in Chicago. Worth watching, especially if you want to see lots of fake vomiting.)

BUT WAIT! Here’s another amazing stop-motion 90-Second Newbery. This one is by the Thursday Thing kids of Portland Community Media. It’s of another dubious classic, the 1922 Honor Book The Old Tobacco Shop: A True Account of What Befell a Little Boy in Search of Adventure by William Bowen. The plot? A five-year-old boy smokes some “magic tobacco,” has a bunch of hallucinations about sailing on a pirate ship and finding treasure, goes on a flying carpet ride, gets ill, and wakes up to find it was all a drug-induced vision. You couldn’t get away with publishing this today:

This same group did a top-notch Frog and Toad Together for last year’s film festival. Like last year, they broke the story up into parts, each part with its own signature form of animation. That’s a canny strategy to maintain audience interest over and above the story—you’re always thinking, what great technical trick are they going to do next?

The puppet part was superbly well-done (and one of the team members behind it is the talented Jacob von Borg!), including the voices and performance, and I loved the elaborately detailed tobacco shop. And even authentic fake smoke! Brilliant! And just when we get used to that, off we go to an impressive clay-animation romp. Expertly done! Other cool moments: how they made the boat “sail” in the green-screened water, and the “splash!” when the sailor falls overboard. And then we had the wild, delirious chase with the paper-cut figures—all wrapping up back in the tobacco shop, with the father shrieking “not the magic tobacco!!!” Marvelous and funny!

(And not the first time we got a 90-Second Newbery of it. Check out this live-action version of The Old Tobacco Shop from last year, by Parker from Tacoma.)

Thanks everyone for your movies so far—see you at the screenings!

90-Second Newbery Stop-Motion/Puppet Edition (Part 1): The Long Winter, Sign of the Beaver, and The Wheel on the School

Tickets for the free Chicago screening of the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival are very nearly all reserved! If you intend to come, better grab ’em while they’re still available.

Some of my favorite 90-Second Newbery entries are the ones that use stop-motion animation or posed miniature figures. The filmmakers aren’t limited having to scout out locations or round up huge casts of characters; they’re limited only by their own craftiness. In this post and the next, I’ll highlight great stop-motion and puppet 90-Second Newberys I’ve received!

For instance, check out 9-year-old Ada Grey‘s movie of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s 1941 Newbery Honor book The Long Winter, above. Great idea to use the Playmobil figures and dollhouse paraphernalia for the sets! I liked especially the snow, the hay, and the way the cow was literally frozen in an ice cube! The cinematography was well-planned and crisply shot, too. Good visual storytelling by showing the flour bag getting emptier and emptier as time goes on, or showing the snow melting bit by bit. The “reaction shot” of the cow after it’s said he might be eaten was priceless. And of course, the original violin bits made for a really good score! If you’re interested in more about Ada Grey, she blogs about the Chicago theater scene here (she’s been reviewing plays since she was 4, apparently).

Next: Elizabeth George Speare’s 1984 Honor Book The Sign of the Beaver, as adapted by Bennett True of San Mateo, CA:

This is some seriously resourceful, painstaking stop-motion work here. It must’ve taken days to pull this off! Bennett’s voiceover narration was quite good too, especially the ominous tone he takes when he intones “a stranger visits Matt’s camp AND STAYS THE NIGHT” or when he announces “A BEAR”!

It’s a canny script, crucially allowing the images to tell the story at the appropriate moments instead of overexplaning everything. For instance, I love how Bennett shows (but doesn’t tell) how the bees attack (I also love how HUGE the bees are compared to Matt). And the rock flying and the bear falling over dead with copious blood were quite clever and fun!

(I was also amused at how, when Attean approaches Matt reading the book, his bow and arrow are drawn as though he’s about to shoot Matt. Gives the scene a whole new subtext.)

Bennett will be in attendance at the San Francisco screening of the 90-Second Newbery. Do you have your tickets for that yet? Again, they’re free!

Last but not least, 10-year-old Neila of Pittsburgh, PA crafted this fine adaptation of Meindert DeJong’s 1955 Newbery Medal winner The Wheel on the School:

I love it when people make movies for the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival that focus on older books that aren’t read as much today. And I especially liked Neila’s bold idea to execute the whole thing with clay and drawings! Excellent work, Neila! The clay figures are skillfully made and very cute, especially the storks. The backgrounds are so vivid and colorful—and those yays, quite bracingly loud (especially that last one)!

Stay tuned for Part 2 of the stop-motion Newberys next time. And if you’re inspired by these, it’s never too soon to start your 90-Second Newbery movie for next year!

90-Second Newbery: Two versions of The Hundred Dresses

The January 20 deadline for this year’s 90-Second Newbery Film Festival is past! I’m just now sorting through an avalanche of delightful entries. More on that soon. In the meantime, have you made your plans to attend our screenings in Chicago (Feb. 1), San Francisco (Feb. 8), Oakland, CA (Feb. 8), Tacoma (Mar. 1), Portland, OR (Mar. 2), and New York City (Mar. 22)? Click on the links of the cities to reserve your free ticket!

In the meantime: this year for the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival I’ve received two versions of Eleanor Estes’ 1945 Honor book The Hundred Dresses.

The first adaptation, above, is by Amy, Casey, Phoebe, Penelope, Lucas, Philip, PJ, and Caleb of Cresskill, NJ. They nailed the plot and I liked all the little touches, like the original music by Lucas and the art of the hundred dresses themselves. I liked the students’ rambunctiousness at the beginning and that was a good creepy shot of when they were exploring the empty house. Great job with the screenplay and camera work too!

Here’s the other adaptation of The Hundred Dresses, this one by Lily and Maddie:

Very resourceful how they played so many of the parts themselves. And they zipped through the plot quite effectively with a tight script and good acting. I also liked the “old film stock” effect they put on the video. Well done!

This is a short post, I know, but very busy today! More videos to come soon!