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The Order of Oddfish

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90-Second Newbery Moviemaking Class at the Treehouse Children’s Museum!

July 6, 2022

A big part of why I’ve enjoyed putting on the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival for the past twelve years is it’s given me an excuse to travel around the country and meet fantastic people. The Treehouse Children’s Museum in Ogden, Utah has hosted screenings of the film festival for years, and I’ve really loved becoming friends with Lynne Goodwin, Rob Goodwin, Wes Whitby, and the rest of the folks who run the place. Back in 2019 I taught a 90-Second Newbery filmmaking class at the Treehouse, and it went so well that we decided to do it again this year!

Being a kid’s museum, the Treehouse has tons of resources for moviemaking: sets, costumes, puppets, and more. And the ten young filmmakers were so creative and ingenious! Special thanks to Caden and Will for helping out too. I couldn’t have led this camp without their help.

So let’s watch the movies that those kids produced! This first one is an adaptation of “The Garden,” a short story from Arnold Lobel’s 1973 Honor Book Frog and Toad Together. It’s by Parker, Beatrice, Crew, Max, and James, and I posted it on the 90-Second Newbery website here.

In the original story, Toad plants some seeds and is very impatient waiting for them to grow. It’s a gentle story about learning how to wait for good things. This movie implies that the original story is perhaps a bit too gentle, and what the story really needs are three ruthless assassins who are out to destroy Frog and Toad! Luckily, the three bumbling hunters never accomplish their goal. The performances are what make this movie so fun to watch: Toad’s earnest eagerness for his seeds to grow and Frog’s gentle and calm nature ground the movie, which makes the over-the-top performances of the three manic assassins even funnier. The infectious enthusiasm and ace comic timing of the actors make this movie super fun to watch. Stick around for the post-credits sequence!

The next movie is by Georgia and James, and it’s an adaptation of E.B. White’s 1953 Honor Book Charlotte’s Web. Ingeniously, they retell the story in the style of The Hunger Games! From the very beginning, with the title screen “Mockingpig” done in a Hunger Games manner, we feel we’re in good hands. The charismatic performances for Fern, and the Effie-Trinket-like character, and the county fair announcer were full of energy and great details (I particularly liked the way Fern looked back sadly at Wilbur as she walked away, and how Wilbur was thrust up into the air, Lion King style), and I was impressed with Wilbur’s performance too, playing his role with innocent sincerity. Charlotte’s voiceover performance was sensitive and comforting too, and gave the movie an emotional heft. The movie made resourceful use of the sets, costumes, and puppets at the Treehouse. I especially liked the black-and-white nightmare vision of pork, and how Wilbur bests the other pigs in an explosion-heavy insult battle at the fair! Good use of emotion-setting music and the occasional stock footage too. This movie was a delight! Here’s the post about it at the 90-Second Newbery website, and here’s the movie itself:

The next movie is by Wren, Lyla, Evie, Faith, and Parker, and it retells Kate DiCamillo’s 2014 Newbery Medal Winner Flora and Ulysses in the style of a movie trailer! The performances of all the characters were engaging and funny—I loved Flora’s put-upon exasperation, the mom’s snarling pushiness, the dad’s hapless manner, the evil cat, and of course Ulysses’s energetic heroic nature. The scene with the vacuum cleaner and Ulysses was ingeniously shot (and I loved the delivery of the line “Oh no! I think I killed a squirrel!”) and the final around-the-world fight between Ulysses and the mom was ludicrous fun. Outstanding performances, snappy camera work, and ace editing really made this movie come together amazingly well! You can also find this movie here at the 90-Second Newbery website.

As it happens, the young filmmakers had some time left over on the last day to shoot even more video, so they also put together this bizarre movie of short sketches and non sequiturs:

Thanks so much to the folks at the Treehouse for making this happen, and thanks especially to the young filmmakers behind these amazing movies! I hope I can come back next summer to do it again!