'Tis a heartwarming theme indeed, conveyed lightly and with kid-pleasing charm by director Wil Shriner and adapted from Carl Hiaasen's young-adult novel. Its target demographic of tweenage boys and girls -- it's the rare film that seems aimed at both -- will probably react favorably to it, though I can't say it did much for me, a grownup who notices things like plot holes and logical fallacies.
Roy Eberhardt (Logan Lerman) is the new kid in Coconut Cove, Fla., just moved from Montana and trying to fit in at his middle school, though he doesn't do himself any favors by wearing a cowboy shirt with his cowboy boots. From the school bus, he sees a barefoot boy about his age running like the wind down the street and into the underbrush. Intrigued, he follows him.
The boy is nicknamed Mullet Fingers (Cody Linley), a runaway who's living in the tropical greenery near a site where contractors are preparing to build a Mother Paula's Pancake House. In his spare time (i.e., 24 hours a day), he sabotages the site, pulling the surveying stakes out of the ground, putting small alligators in the port-a-potties, releasing bags of venomous snakes nearby -- you know, harmless kid stuff like that.
The reason for his passion isn't that he hates Mother Paula or her pancakes. It's that the land is home to an endangered breed of burrowing owls, sweet little birds whose habitat will be destroyed if Mother Paula moves in. Thus it befalls Mullet Fingers, Roy, and Mullet's sister Beatrice (Brie Larson), a soccer-playing tough girl, to stop the development and save the owls -- if only they can stay one step ahead of the bumbling small-town cop (Luke Wilson) who senses they're up to something.
Perhaps you are thinking, Why don't the kids just go to the newspapers and tell them about the owls? Surely once it's made public, government officials will rescind Mother Paula's permission to build there. At the very least, it would attract the attention of animal-protection organizations with more resources and clout than a transplanted cowboy, a barefoot hillbilly and his wiseguy sister.
If you are thinking this, you are ahead of the movie. The thought never occurs to the movie. The movie figures the ONLY recourse the kids have is to disregard all legal channels and stop the developers by themselves. To help us support that position, the on-site manager is a dim redneck named Curly (Tim Blake Nelson), while the Mother Paula's regional manager is an evil corporate man named Muckle (Clark Gregg) who isn't merely indifferent to the plight of the owls -- he actively hates them! You're on the kids' side NOW, right?!
The young actors give earnest, straightforward performances, and the film has a playful tone that makes it likable regardless of its dubious story line. It's breezy fun, and probably benign, unless your kids take its eco-terrorism to heart and start padlocking themselves to redwood trees. But that's unlikely, right?