Building Entertainment: The films of the Walt Disney Studio. Holes

Welcome to my weekly discussion of the films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.”

Title: Holes

Year: 2002

Source materials: The novel by Louis Sachar

Budget:  $20 million

Box office: $71.4 million

Plot: In Texas, the Yelnats family has been cursed to be unlucky. They blame this on their ancestor Elya’s failure to keep a promise to fortune teller Madame Zeroni years ago in Latvia. One day, Stanley Yelnats IV is wrongfully convicted of stealing a pair of sneakers that were donated to charity by baseball player Clyde “Sweet Feet” Livingston, and is sentenced to 18 months at Camp Green Lake, a juvenile detention camp, in lieu of jail time.

He arrives to find that the camp is a dried up lake run by the warden, Louise Walker, her assistant Mr. Sir, and camp counselor Dr. Kiowa Pendanski. Prisoners who are known by their nicknames – including Zero, Zig-Zag, Armpit, Squid, X-Ray, and Magnet – spend each day digging holes in the desert; they may earn a day off if the inmates find anything that intrigues Walker. During one night, Mr. Sir rescues Stanley from a yellow-spotted lizard, which he warns Stanley are aggressive, venomous, and lethal. After finding a golden lipstick tube initialed K.B. and a fossil, Stanley is accepted into the group and is given the nickname Caveman.

After taking the blame for Magnet’s stealing of Mr. Sir’s sunflower seeds, Stanley is taken to the warden’s house where old wanted posters and newspapers lead him to realize that “KB” stands for Katherine “Kissin’ Kate” Barlow, a school teacher turned outlaw from the past. Walker asks Stanley to grab her box of nail polish and mentions that it contains rattlesnake venom. After he and Mr. Sir explain what happened with the sunflower seeds, Walker injures Mr. Sir and allows Stanley to return to his hole.

Camp Green Lake’s history is revealed in a series of flashbacks: In the 19th century, Green Lake is a flourishing lakeside community. Katherine Barlow is involved in a love triangle with the wealthy Charles “Trout” Walker, whom Barlow rejects, and an African-American onion seller named Sam, whom Barlow loves. One night, the jealous Walker and the town’s citizens burn down the schoolhouse and kill Sam. In retaliation, Barlow kills the local sheriff who ignored her pleas for help and becomes an outlaw hunting down Walker’s men. At one point, she steals a chest of gold from Elya’s son Stanley Yelnats Sr. Twenty years later, the now-bankrupt Walkers track down Barlow and demand she hand over her treasure. Barlow refuses and tells them to dig for the treasure, after which Barlow dies from a lizard bite and the Walkers set about digging for the treasure.

In the present, when Pendanski mocks Zero, whose name is actually Hector Zeroni, the latter hits Pendanski with a shovel and runs off. After some deliberation, Stanley searches for Hector. The pair have difficulty surviving in the desert without water. Eventually, Stanley carries the now ill Hector up the mountain where they find a wild field of onions and a source of water, helping them regain strength; at the same time, Stanley unknowingly fulfills his ancestor’s promise to the fortune teller and breaks the curse. While camping on the mountain, Hector tells Stanley that he stole Livingston’s sneakers and threw them over the bridge to evade the police, only for them to inadvertently hit Stanley’s head.

Returning to the camp, Stanley and Hector investigate the hole where Stanley found the lipstick and discover a chest before they are discovered by Walker, Mr. Sir, and Pendanski. They soon realize that Walker, who is a descendant of her family, is using the inmates to search for his treasure. The adults are unable to steal the chest from the boys, as the hole has swarmed with lizards, passive to Stanley and Hector due to the onions they ate earlier. The adults decide to wait for the morning, when the lizards will retreat to the shade.

The next morning, the attorney general and Stanley’s lawyer arrive, accompanied by police officers; the chest Stanley found is discovered to have belonged to his namesake great-grandfather. Walker; Mr. Sir, who is revealed to be a paroled criminal named Marion Sevillo; and Pendanski, who is a criminal impersonating a doctor, are arrested. Stanley and Zero are released and it rains in Green Lake for the first time in over 100 years. The Yelnats family claims ownership of the chest which contains jewels, deeds, and promissory notes, which they share with Hector, who uses it to hire private investigators to locate his missing mother, and both families live a life of financial ease as neighbors.

Background: The film was shot in several locations, including in Ridgecrest, California. Due to the heat inside of the holes reaching over 150 °F, and strong climate in Ridgecrest, the actors went through physical training with a stunt guide, in order to keep in shape for long periods of filming. Filming was a new experience for many of the child actors, particularly for LaBeouf, who had never done filming in such an unpredictable climate before.
To show the seven kids’ holes being dug gradually throughout the day, different “phases” were used, for each of which the seven holes were given different levels of deepness. For the yellow spotted lizards, fourteen bearded dragons were used, four of which were used for the main parts, and the rest of which were used as “background atmosphere lizards”.

Changes from the Source Material:In the original book, Stanley is depicted as being obese, shedding considerable amounts of weight as the book progresses; however, the filmmakers chose to drop this aspect from the movie, as it would have been difficult to convincingly portray the loss of weight, in a live action film.

Cast: Sigourney Weaver returns as Louise Walker. Jon Voight returns as Marion “Mr. Sir” Sevillo. Eartha Kitt returns as Madame Zeroni.

Shia LaBeouf as Stanley “Caveman” Yelnats IV. He played Louis Stevens in the Disney Channel series Even Stevens. He appeared in  Disturbia, Surf’s Up, Transformers, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, Lawless, The Company You Keep, Nymphomaniac, Fury, American Honey, Borg vs McEnroe, Honey Boy, The Peanut Butter Falcon, and Pieces of a Woman. Patricia Arquette as Katherine “Kissin’ Kate” Barlow. Arquette made her feature film debut as Kristen Parker in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. Her other notable films include True Romance, Ed Wood, Flirting with Disaster, Lost Highway, The Hi-Lo Country, Bringing Out the Dead, Stigmata, Fast Food Nation, The Wannabe, and Toy Story 4. 1For playing a single mother in the coming-of-age film Boyhood, which was filmed from 2002 until 2014, Arquette won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.

Tim Blake Nelson as Dr. Kiowa “Mom” Pendanski. He is best known for O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Syriana,  The Incredible Hulk, Lincoln, Minority Report, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, and the HBO series Watchmen. Khleo Thomas as Hector “Zero” Zeroni.  He is known for appearing in  Roll Bounce, Friday After Next, Walking Tall , Going to the Mat, Dirty, Remember the Daze, and  Major Crimes.

Dulé Hill as Sam the Onion Man. He studied ballet at a young age, and appeared in the musical The Tap Dance Kid as Savion Glover’s understudy on Broadway. While in college at Seton Hall, he was cast in a starring role in Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk. He played Charlie Young, on The West Wing, for which he received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series, and Burton “Gus” Guster on Psych. He also had roles in The Guardian, She’s All That and a recurring role on Ballers. Henry Winkler as Stanley Yelnats III. He is known for playing Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli on Happy Days, Barry Zuckerkorn on Arrested Development, Sy Mittleman on Childrens Hospital, Dr. Saperstein on  Parks and Recreation, and Eddie R. Lawson on Royal Pains. His most recent role is Gene Cousineau on Barry for which he won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series. Other credits include Night Shift, The Lords of Flatbush, The One and Only, Scream, The Waterboy, Click, and Here Comes the Boom.

Siobhan Fallon Hogan as Tiffany Yelnats. A former cast member of Saturday Night Live, she appeared in films such as Men in Black, Forrest Gump, The Negotiator, Holes, Daddy Day Care, Going in Style, and The House That Jack Built. Ken Davitian as Igor Barkov. A veteran of several films and television appearances, he is best known for his role as Borat’s producer Azamat Bagatov in Borat.

NBA player Rick Fox plays Clyde “Sweet Feet” Livingston

Music: Music included the Grammy winning single “Just Like You” by Keb Mo’, and “Dig It” by The D Tent Boys. The soundtrack also included contributions by Eels, Devin Thompson, Dr. John, Eagle Eye Cherry, Fiction Plane, Little Axe, Moby, North Mississippi Allstars, Pepe Deluxé, Shaggy, Stephanie Bentley, and Teresa James and the Rhythm Tramps.The score was composed, and conducted, by Joel McNeely.

Critical Reception:Roger Ebert, of the Chicago Sun-Times rated the film 3.5 of four stars and wrote “Davis has always been a director with a strong visual sense, and the look of Holes has a noble, dusty loneliness. We feel we are actually in a limitless desert. The cinematographer, Stephen St. John, thinks big and frames his shots for an epic feel that adds weight to the story. I walked in expecting a movie for thirteen somethings, and walked out feeling challenged and satisfied. Curious, how much more grown up and sophisticated Holes is than Anger Management.”

My take: I remember being surprised that the film was as good as it was. The child actors hold their own

Available on Disney +?: Yes

Next Week: College Road Trip