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90-Second Newbery: 3 Ways of Doing Mr. Popper’s Penguins

January 14, 2015

Screenings for our 90-Second Newbery Film Festival are just around the corner in various cities, with Chicago first on January 25, 2015! (Complete schedule of cities and dates here.)

Let’s look at three movies submitted this year—two from Chicago and one from Portland—that each have their unique take on Richard and Florence Atwater’s 1939 Honor Book Mr. Popper’s Penguins.

First up is the FANTASTIC one above, a stop-motion Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Sarah, Mariah, Hannah, Emmie, Bridget, Allie, and Courtney, all 13-14 year olds who make up Girl Scout troop 2539 from Urbana, IL.

So much to love about this movie! The attention to detail and the high level of quality in the stop-motion animation is just jaw-dropping. The idea of doing it as a silent movie was inspired, and the music was well chosen. I love how even Mr. Popper’s mustache moves around in an expressive way. When Mr. Popper is wondering what to do about the penguins, or getting an idea, you can really feel his emotion! Even the penguins are invested with cute personality. I loved the way they multiplied, and then raided the refrigerator! These girl scouts also really succeeded at getting plot points across by pure visual storytelling: the closeup on the radio, the wide shot of Mr. Popper in a big empty room to emphasize his loneliness, the way money rains down on him. SPLENDID WORK!

But that’s not the only Mr. Popper’s Penguins I’ve received this year! In the summer of 2014, the Addison Public Library in Addison, IL made their own version of the classic, but theirs was live-action . . . with a zombie/horror twist! I visited their library a few times to help their team write and shoot it, but they did 95% of this on their own, and the results are great! Come for the penguins, stay for the exploding Statue of Liberty and human-limb-eating! What costumes! And I love everyone’s acting: from the zonked-out Mr. Popper to the exasperated wife to the stern Admiral Drake and of course all the cute-yet-murderous penguins:

The third Mr. Popper’s Penguins I received this year was from Mr. Gilley’s film, media arts and technology class at West Sylvan Middle School in Portland, OR. His class made a bunch of fantastic 90-Second Newbery videos, all of which I’ve showcased here (be sure to check out the hilarious Hatchet!). According to Mr. Gilley, all of these great videos were produced 99% by the students, themselves. Mr. Gilley only taught them skills, facilitated, gave them feedback and advice.

In the adaptation below, I love the exasperated way that Mr. Popper kept saying “What the heck?” at the beginning (I was halfway hoping that that would be the only line in the movie, just repeated different ways in different contexts). Good fast-forward montage of moving the furniture. I liked the cutting back and forth during the conversations. Good job on this one, too! I love seeing the different ways of interpreting and adapting the same material. That’s what the 90-Second Newbery is all about.

Looking forward to seeing everyone at the screenings! Complete schedule of the screenings in Chicago and Portland and everyone else available here.