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The Order of Oddfish

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90-Second Newbery: Tacoma 2013

I received many superior movies from Tacoma, WA for the 2013’s Second Annual 90-Second Newbery Film Festival. Let’s watch them all!

For instance, above: Sara Truscott’s stylish, Wes-Anderson-esque 90-Second Newbery adaptation of Arnold Lobel’s 1973 Newbery Honor Book Frog And Toad Together. Sara takes one of the vignettes from the book, “The List,” and makes a bewitching ye-ye music video around that. A brilliant stroke to make Frog and Toad young lovers. I loved all the little touches: the way she rings the doorbell, the way he answers the door, the flying-in-the-wind list special effect, “go to sleep” written out in flowers . . .

Next, an adaptation of the very first Newbery Medal winner, The Story of Mankind by Hendrik Willem van Loon (1922). It takes guts to boil a 500+ page book down to 90 seconds, but Jennings Mergenthal and Max Lau of Tacoma were up to the task. With stop-motion clay:

Ingenious! The running gag about the Crusades had exquisite comic timing. The absurd “India” conclusion to the “Exploration” bit was funny too. I loved the way we could watch humanity evolve from a fish to a modern human all within seconds. And the sound effects were bang-on, too—from the clanging swords to the superheroic music when Napoleon appears.

With Max and Jennings’ permission, I tweaked the sound effects a little for the video featured above. If you want to see their original version, along with their other stop-motion clay creations, check out their YouTube channel here. They’re a creative powerhouse.

Another standout from Tacoma was also comes with the Newbery’s inaugural year of 1922, the Honor Book The Old Tobacco Shop by William Bowen. Here adapted by a mysterious Tacoma entity known only as “Parker”:

I never read The Old Tobacco Shop, but now it’s clear I absolutely must read it as soon as possible: a boy smokes some magical tobacco and goes on a hallucinatory journey with clown-pirates? They don’t make children’s books like they used to . . . I love the switch in style, where the olde-tymey, black-and-white, plinkety-piano bit suddenly goes bonkers, ZOOMS INTO THE BOY’S EYE, and then—COLOR AND PIRATES! And then it only gets weirder!

But wait, we’re not done with Frog and Toad Together adaptations yet. Here’s another by Jake Keister and Nikki Baldwin, which also covers all the vignettes in the book:

I love the breakneck pace at which the vignettes flash past, some in as few as 10 seconds. Now that’s compression! I especially liked the shot of Toad on the high wire above Frog. It’s all wittily done. Interestingly, Nikki and Jake use the same sort of dolls that Aaron Zenz and family used for their own breakout adaptation of Frog and Toad Together earlier this year. Great work all around!

Now Jake Keister has a brother Jeremy Keister, who also made a film, this time of Carl Hiaasen’s 2003 Honor Book Hoot:

I hope Jeremy and Jake don’t have a brotherly rivalry, because both movies were equally delightful! This adaptation of Hoot really hits all the important parts of the story in a fun and engaging way.

Next, Megan Whalen Turner’s 1997 Honor Book The Thief, as adapted by the Tacoma Public Library Interactive Media Teen Book Club:

Brilliant! And such commitment to detail! Those are great disgustingly realistic makeup scabs for the wrists at the beginning. I love the Monty-Python-style horseriding and the resourceful use of the map graphic. And swordfighting! Great use of locations, too: the dark, creepy maze with the gloopy water sound effects, and the castle-like exteriors. This group took a great book and made it into a great movie!

The next two movies, Gail Carson Levine 1998 Honor Book Ella Enchanted and Joyce Sidman’s 2011 Honor Book Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night, were made by the supergroup of Olivia, Aydsen, Alyshia, Abby, and Jack. First, Ella Enchanted:

This Ella Enchanted quite cleverly and satisfyingly boiled down the storyline. Great beginning with a baby crying in the dark, fading in to the wand and the casting of the spell of obedience. The stepsisters are gloriously awful. That was a particularly nice “art shot” of Ella talking to the mirror, and I liked the POOF! special effect that turned the pumpkin into a pumpkin-carriage. The vigorous, frustrated attempt to jam the shoe onto Olive was funny, too.

And now Dark Emperor:


The candles and the black turtlenecks gave it a creepy-beatnik coffeehouse poetry reading vibe. I like how they switch between the poem readers and the illustrations of the book, with further quotes from the book as subtitles. The incantatory style of the poetry reading became quite hypnotic. Nice touch how everyone blew out their candles simultaneously at the end!

The next one is Emily Neville’s 1964 Medal Winner It’s Like This, Cat as adapted by Hannah Fewster, with paper cut-out puppetry:

Very resourceful use of puppets! I liked the absurd Carly Rae Jepsen joke and “I’m going out now to run blindly into traffic” was a funny line. The puppet of the main character’s continuously goofy expression added a kind of maniacal intensity to the whole thing. My favorite part might have been the Jersey turnpike traffic pileup. Also, I think every movie from now on should end with the crashingly anticlimactic line, “Uh, my asthma is much better now.”

Next, Gennifer Choldenko’s 2005 Honor Book Al Capone Does My Shirts as adapted by Mary Boone and Eli Robinson:

Great use of archival photos and video with voiceover. It helps place the viewer in the time period of Al Capone. The stock photography is cleverly selected and interspersed it well with the live action stuff. And the voiceover work was very good too!

Mickey Osborne must really like Avi’s 1991 Honor Book The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, because she adapted it twice: once with a human cast, and then with an ALL-DOG cast. Whaaat? First, the human cast:

And now the same story, done with dogs:

The version with the girls made resourceful use of the playground pirate ship. I also liked the deployment of slow motion and dramatic musical cues to goose up the story. (Nice slap, too!) For the dog one, I loved the absurdly hifalutin narration and the great voice work for the various characters. Captain Jaggery’s pirate hat is criminally cute. And that was a hilarous “fight to the death”! Well done!

Next, Grace Lin’s 2010 Honor Book Where the Mountain Meets the Moon as adapted by Zaneb, Maleah, McLean, and Tristan:

Great job! Good use of green screen, and the dragon is absolutely gorgeous! I thought the emperor had a top-notch mustache and beard, but then he was totally bested by the old man in the moon’s amazing mustache and beard. Good use of sound effects too, and the ending shot with the purple dress and the giant moon was beautiful! Well acted and tightly scripted.

Next, Giaudrone Middle School steps up with an adaptation of Russell Freedman’s 1988 Medal Winner Lincoln: A Photobiography:

Very well-shot and slyly absurd The black-and-white tones and the soundtrack make an entertaining counterpoint to Lincoln’s immortal words: “I have also had some rough times with the war, slavery, the economy . . . ” That was in the Gettysburg Address, right? And I’m always a sucker for a good assassination scene . . .

Next, Lois Lowry’s 1994 Medal Winner The Giver as adapted by Carol and Randy Robbins and friends:

The story was told swiftly but with emotional power! Good camera work too. The color apple flying through the black and white world was a great way to start. And the boy played Jonas very well, what an expressive face! The scene where everyone gets a job but Jonas very effectively made us feel his uncertainty and fear. The switch from black and white to color midway through the movie was well done. I like how he rides away on a bike at the end into the woods, and his voiceover really worked.

That wasn’t the only version of The Giver I received. Here are two more, both from Seabury Middle School. The first is by Connor and Alex:

I especially liked the structure on this one, repeatedly seeing the Giver from over the shoulder of Jonas, the same angle every time, then the laying on of hands, then Jonas’ vision, followed by the aftermath, three times. That gave the whole thing a nice unity. And it summed up the story accurately and satisfyingly.

The other version of The Giver I received is probably one of the shortest 90-Second Newberys I have received, with only about 40 seconds of actual movie, by Abe King-Madlem and Wyatt Thornton:

Funny and ridiculous! I especially liked the horrifying shot of The Giver at the end.

There are three more movies we received from Seabury Middle School. The first is Sid Fleischman’s 1987 Medal Winner The Whipping Boy, by Daniel and Nathan:

Good use of the green screen. And the fake mustaches were choice. And for some reason, the way the king flutters his hand when he says “bring in the whipping boy” is particularly entertaining. Well done!

Now let’s wrap this up with two versions of Katherine Paterson’s 1978 Medal Winner Bridge to Terabithia. The first version is animated, by Elizabeth Min and Astrid Anderson:

I appreciate it when groups take the extra effort to ambitiously adapt books into animation. There are a lot of storytelling tricks you can do with animated images that you can’t do with live-action. This animation took advantage of that! Good work!

And last but not least, one more Bridge to Terabithia from Seabury Middle School, this time by Alyson Stewart and friends:

A nicely unobtrusive use of green screen, and it was an irresistible comic moment when they went from “stop following me” to “hey, do you want to be friends>” to skipping off together all in 5 seconds. Good acting, tight script!

Thanks, everyone from Tacoma, for all these great 90-Second Newbery movies! I’m looking forward to seeing you all at the film festival.