Boys will be boys and Disney’s new live-action kids’ movie Holes’ depiction of the spirit, vulgarity and camaraderie that boys display when thrown together is spot on. Like all classic children’s films though, the appeal of Holes stretches well beyond boys – there’s plenty in it to appeal to girls, men and women too.
Based on a children’s book of the same title by Louis Sachar, Holes tells the story of Stanley Yelnats (Shia LaBeouf), who comes from a family that has been dogged with bad luck. Stanley experiences this curse first hand when he is wrongly accused of robbing a pair of trainers and sent to Camp Green Lake, a Texas camp for badly behaved boys. Nave Stanley soon realises that there are no lakes in this camp after being sent out in the desert day after day, along with his bullying campmates, to dig holes.
However there is a lot more to this film than digging holes. The clever plot intertwines stories from the past and touches on big issues like racism and illiteracy. It also explores themes of friendship and courage but is never preachy or patronising towards its young audience. The main strength of Holes is that it never forgets to entertain through some genuinely funny moments and its cast of colourful and unique characters.
Sigourney Weaver as The Warden, who runs the camp, is suitably sinister without descending into pantomime villain territory. She successfully achieves a balance of power and femininity as demonstrated perfectly in a thrilling scene involving nail polish. Grown-up viewers will raise a smile for Tim Blake Nelson’s portrayal of the camp’s counsellor Dr Pedanski, which effectively satirises our touchy-feely self-help culture.
Zero, however steals the show. Played by 14 year-old Khleo Thomas, Zero is the illiterate kid of few words who befriends our hero Stanley in the camp. Zero is the ultimate underdog and is played with guts, emotion and determination by Thomas who at a young age has already mastered that elusive skill of saying so much by the subtlest movement in his face.
Disney has certainly come up trumps for the first time in a long while with Holes. Unlike the usual Disney fare, Holes is surprisingly short on sentiment and the romantic flashback moments, which threaten to go all saccharine on us, are told with tongue firmly in cheek.
In fact the spirit of Holes is reminiscent of Steven Spielberg and Richard Donner’s 1980s collaboration, The Goonies, which made unlikely heroes out of a group of mismatched kids who eventually triumph over the evil adults. Both films carefully follow the development of the children’s maturity – from nervy awkward and nave, in Stanley’s case, to strong, brave and a little worldlier wise.
After a spate of fantasy a la Potter/Rings it is refreshing to see a strong film about real characters with real problems. And although the film’s fairytale ending is a little fantastical, Holes is a film with its feet firmly on the ground.