If you decide to see "Holes," be sure you buy an extra-large drink before you settle into your seat.
The new Disney film's cinematography of arid wasteland and scenes of adolescent boys digging in the dirt under a sizzling sun will make you want to sip more than usual. But despite all the dustbowl scenery, this is hardly a dry story. Rather, "Holes" digs deeper than other films of its ilk, presenting a substantive yarn that deals with racism, children not fitting in, and the importance of friendship.
This eccentric, honky-tonk tale hews closely to Louis Sachar's popular 1998 children's book, which won a Newbery Medal. In a Read magazine poll, young people ranked it higher than "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone." Sachar wrote the screenplay himself.
Newcomer Shia LaBeouf (of Disney's "Even Stevens") plays Stanley Yelnats IV, a teen who's wrongly convicted of stealing a pair of sneakers.
Stanley is then shipped off to Camp Green Lake, a juvenile detention center that, despite its name, lacks foliage and natural water of any sort and actually sits in the middle of the desert. There, Stanley and the other boys - who have nicknames like X-Ray, Armpit, and Zero - are forced to shovel the sand, puncturing the terrain into a swiss-cheese looking wasteland of five-feet-deep holes.
The author reportedly wrote the story after he spent a summer in the sweltering heat of Austin, Texas. Parts of the movie were filmed in California near Death Valley.
The digging is, ostensibly, to build character, says the camp's warden, played by Sigourney Weaver in a role that's as chilling as the alien nemesis she's faced before. But the boys discover she's really seeking a legendary treasure.
The story moves through three eras, showing us the Old West version of Green Lake, where a white school teacher (Patricia Arquette) became a bandit after her black lover was killed, and the history behind why Stanley's family was cursed.
Like most children's films, everything wraps together neatly - and predictably - in the end. But overall, "Holes" offers a creative oasis in a mostly formulaic landscape of films for older children.
• Rated PG for violence and some darker themes.