Gene and Phineas. Ponyboy and Johnny. Stanley and Hector. These three pairs to me are the golden triad of male best friends in coming-of-age literature. They’re the relationships we remember most from their respective books, the relationships that serve as their story’s emotional backbone.
The thing about the last duo, though — Stanley and Hector — is that their book Holes hasn’t even been around for that long, at least not in comparison to the other two duos.
A Separate Peace (where Gene and Phineas originate) was published in 1958. The Outsiders (where Ponyboy and Johnny originate) was published in 1967. Holes, on the other hand, was published in 1998, making 2023 the 25th anniversary of the book, as well as the 20th anniversary of the film adaptation of the same name.
And yet, despite this, Holes is just as beloved and treasured, and its film adaptation might be more well-remembered than the film adaptations of the other two books.
Holes actually feels more refreshing now than it did back in 2003. In a time when Disney constantly revisits or remakes incredibly familiar cinematic properties because they’re so afraid to take risks on new ones, Holes is a nice reminder that there was once a time when the company looked towards book adaptations or even original stories in order to create beloved family films.
It works even better because Holes itself is an especially singular story — it was unique back then, and it’s still unique now. Despite the many friendship films that came after it, there’s no other film quite like it, even 20 years later.
The story of a young boy being sent to a camp where he’s forced to dig holes all day because he was found guilty of stealing a celebrity’s pair of shoes (that literally fell out of the sky) is already odd enough, but why not add a family curse to the mix? A psychic? A pig-stealing grandfather? A romance between a schoolteacher and an onion seller whose onions can keep dangerous lizards from biting you?
Holes is an absolute blast to reread and rewatch, simply because it’s always surprising seeing all the unexpected routes and directions the story takes. Louis Sachar, the author, also wrote the film’s screenplay, and most of the movie stays incredibly faithful to its source material.
Holes also helped kickstart a trend for more coming-of-age and family films to explore stories where the male protagonist finds healing and understanding not through romance but through friendship. Bridge to Terabithia, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Luca, and Sonic the Hedgehog 2 all center around young boys who allow themselves to love deeply in ways other than romantically, an incredibly important lesson for young boys to learn.
The friendship between Stanley and Hector feels incredibly accurate to the male friendships I’ve had in my boyhood or even manhood. All these little things like the hugging, constant use of words like “dude” and “man”, and even Stanley picking Hector up by his legs and carrying him over his shoulder because he’s so elated make their friendship feel so genuine, like the book and film were written and directed by people who truly know what it’s like to be a boy who’s best friends with another boy.
Disney may never go back to making films like Holes again, even if there’s a plethora of great children’s books they can choose to adapt. Still, it’s worth being thankful that a book like Holes even got written and a film adaptation of it got made. It’s the kind of story you’d never expect to find in a film made for adults, all topped with the sense of wholesomeness that makes it so perfect for families.
Both the book and film are well worth revisiting, and if you somehow haven’t experienced either yet, find yourself a copy of this book or add the film to your Disney+ watchlist. Not having experienced Holes is a definite hole in your life you need to fill.
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