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

January 23, 2014

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!