After being wrongly convicted of stealing a pair of trainers, palindromic Stanley Yelnats is sent to Camp Green Lake, a godforsaken work camp in the middle of nowhere where the inmates are forced to dig mysterious holes every day. If Stanley can discover the secret of the holes, it will change his luck for good.
Louis Sachar's compelling children's classic is about as Disney as Freddy Krueger. It's got murder, racism, facial disfigurement and killer lizards.
Tightly plotted, it's a multi-layered, interlinking story that spans history to reveal Stanley's own heritage and the secret behind the holes. It races from Latvia's lush greenness to the pock-marked Camp Green Lake (hint: there's no lake and no green).
Disney's first success is re-creating the novel's environments so convincingly - the set design is superb and without gloss. The other plus is in the casting. Rising star Shia LaBeouf (Charlie's Angels 2, Project Greenlight) might not be the fat boy of the book, but his attitude is right and he's far from the usual clean-cut hero. The rest of the cast is filled out equally well, from Patricia Arquette as the Frontier school marm-turned-bank robber to Henry Winkler as Stanley's dad. The downside is the pop soundtrack - pure marketing department - and having the sentiment turned up to full volume at the end.
Kids' fare with a brain - a haunting detective story with a warm heart.