Roy Eberhardt is always the new kid in school. Thanks to his dad's job, which requires the family to move frequently, Roy has attended a new school just about every year of his life.
Being the new kid at Trace Middle School in Coconut Cove, Fla., automatically makes him bully-bait for Dana, a hulking tormentor of everyone who is smaller than he. But size isn't everything. Coming to Roy's rescue is Beatrice, a stand-out soccer player who is not the slightest bit intimidated by Dana. At the same time, Coconut Cove is home to at least two mysteries: One is the long-haired, barefoot boy who runs alongside the school bus each morning but doesn't seem to actually go to school. The other is the identity of someone who keeps sabotaging the site of a future pancake restaurant, preventing construction from starting.
Roy eventually puts two and two together and figures out that the barefoot boy is the one preventing the restaurant from being built. The reason? The land is home to the burrowing owl, a unique species of bird that is on the endangered list. The boy is a runaway who goes by the name Mullet Fingers (for his ability to catch the small fish with his bare hands). Roy and Beatrice are convinced of his cause and team up with him to stop the owl's home from being plowed under while also trying to expose the corruption that allowed a building permit to be issued in the first place.
Roy, Beatrice and Mullet Fingers make a good team, standing together to expose corruption and to protect the helpless owls. Their marine sciences teacher, Mr. Ryan, and classmates eventually come to their aid, too. (The means they use to get to their end, however, leave something to be desired. More on that later.) Roy stands up to the bully Dana, not so much to protect himself but to protect future new kids in school who will eventually be bullied, too. (Again, his heart's in the right place, but his actions don't follow the straight-and-narrow.)
Despite the stresses caused by frequent moves, Roy's family remains tight and loving. His dad is firm but loving in disciplining Roy. By contrast, Beatrice comes from a broken and feuding family—mentioned but never seen—and we observe her longing for the stability provided by Roy's loving household.
A woman wears a low-cut blouse that reveals a bit of cleavage. While there's nothing overtly sexual about it, one scene has Beatrice hiding under Roy's bed as he's tucked in for the night, with her mentioning that she kept her eyes closed when he changed into his pajamas. Dana is tied to a tree while wearing only his boxer shorts.
The bully Dana puts Roy in a headlock and then slams his face against the school bus window. In a later encounter, Dana hits and pushes Roy in a school utility room. We know where Dana gets his bullying ways when he gets into an argument with his mom, who puts him in a headlock. Beatrice shoves Dana aside, and later Roy punches Dana in the face, breaking the bully's nose.
Roy is hit in the head with a golf ball—twice. A man is conked cold by a falling coconut. An alligator lunges at a man, and fierce guard dogs corner a boy. (We learn later that they bit his arm.) A boy falls onto multiple rattraps, which snap on his fingers and feet. A construction worker tries to evict the owls from their burrows by blasting them with a fire extinguisher.
Crude or Profane Language
Two exclamations of "Oh my god." One use each of "dang" and "darn." Several uses of the expression "screwing around" (meaning to goof off). Other insults such as "jerk," "b-gger" and "dork" are tossed around. Beatrice says that a situation "sucks."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
Hoot's greatest weakness is its willingness to use end-justifies-the-means reasoning for the tweens' actions. Mullet Fingers is a runaway who defies the police. He verbalizes death threats, and he vandalizes a work site, a bulldozer and a police car. He steals things from the site, and he lets poisonous snakes and alligators loose on it. He even goes so far as to assault and abduct Mr. Muckle, the man responsible for the construction, tying him up and gagging him. (This behavior has prompted a variety of newspapers, including Newsday, The Edmonton Sun and The Oregonian to apply the term "eco-terrorism" in their reviews.)
After Mullet Fingers urges his comrades-in-arms to start "thinking like an outlaw," the three middle schoolers lie on multiple occasions to hospital workers, police, the mayor and just about anyone else who gets in their way. Their teacher, Mr. Ryan, abets the tweens by lying to a police officer to throw him off their trail. Roy lies to his parents both implicitly and explicitly on several occasions. Once, he deliberately punctures his own bicycle tire to manufacture an excuse for getting home late.
[Spoiler Warning] While Dana the bully may be guilty of many things in this story, he is not guilty of sabotaging the work site for the pancake restaurant. Yet the police mistakenly arrest him and, in a film postscript meant to be humorous, we see him being punished. The guilty party, Mullet Fingers, never pays for his vandalism, and he, Roy and Beatrice are celebrated for their "accomplishments."
The film apparently approves of Mullet Finger's runaway, truant status, since he remains that way at story's end—with Roy's assistance. Roy resists a police officer, leading him on a chase through town.
Hoot is based on the novel by Carl Hiaasen, for which he received the 2003 Newbery Honors for children's literature. (Hiaasen's other novels were all aimed at an older audience, including Strip Tease, which was turned into a movie starring Demi Moore.) This production is brought to us courtesy of Walden Media, whose stated mission is to make movies that are "inherently educational" by adapting "great literature." (Holes, Because of Winn-Dixie, Charlotte's Web and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe are examples of the kind of films Walden creates.)
Hoot is indeed inherently educational, but I'm not sure I like what it's teaching. It not so subtly confirms for kids that lying, cheating and breaking the law are acceptable—even desirable—when it comes to doing "great things" with your life. Sure, the kids bravely take on the corrupt powers-that-be in order to defend the defenseless owls. It's just that lying is integral to the game plan. So is vandalism, theft, assault, kidnapping, defying properly instituted authorities and getting other authority figures to lie for them. And at no time do they pay a price for these actions or get called onto the carpet for it. Rather, the kids are celebrated for exposing the corrupt Mr. Muckle and saving the owls. And the police actually end up apologizing to them for trying to interfere with their lawless activities.
There's something just a tad upside down about this educational worldview.
Hoot has some fun and funny moments, and for the most part it's wholesomely free of the petty vulgarity that mars so many movies—even children's movies—these days. So it's not foul language or depictions of sex and drugs that'll give families reason for pause here; it's the interwoven messages.