Maniac Magee (film)

Maniac Magee
Based on Maniac Magee
by Jerry Spinelli
Written by Jerry Spinelli
Michael Nolin
Jack Zurla
Mark Zaslove
Directed by Bob Clark
Starring Michael Angarano
Orlando Brown
Kyla Pratt
Jada Pinkett Smith
Rolonda Watts
Theme music composer Alyssa Brown
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
Producer(s) Michael Nolin
Jack Zurla
Mark Zaslove
Cinematography Marshall Adams
Running time 68 minutes
Distributor Nickelodeon
Budget none
Original release February 23, 2003 (2003-02-23)

Maniac Magee is a television film made for the Nickelodeon network, based on the novel of the same name by Jerry Spinelli.[1] The story follows twelve-year-old Jeffrey Lionel "Maniac" Magee, an orphaned runaway with many extraordinary and athletic talents, who arrives in a town divided with racial conflict. The film was broadcast on Nickelodeon on February 23, 2003.[2]

The film appears to be set in the early 1980s. The book was released in 1990. The teleplay was a finalist for a Humanitas Award in the Children's Live Action program category in 2003,[3] though the award was ultimately won by A Ring of Endless Light.[4]


In the present, an adult female character (played by Jada Pinkett Smith) arrives at a public park in Two Mills, Pennsylvania where she goes to watch some kids jumping rope together at a park. She is also the narrator of the movie and goes to tell the story of Maniac Magee who changed the town of Two Mills forever.

Two decades earlier, the parents of twelve-year-old Jeffrey Lionel Magee (Michael Angarano) are killed by a drunk driver just after his father told him that he would show him his infamous "stopball." After his parents' funeral, a police officer and a woman named Dottie Freeze (Melissa Bickerton) who runs an orphanage approaches Jeffrey and tells him to "come with them." They both appear to be lunatics, scaring Jeffrey who decides to make a run for it out of the town and across the country. All of the running seems to develop into supernatural-like qualities allowing him to run at a very fast speed. After nearly a year of running, he arrives in the town of Two Mills, where racial tensions are extremely strong. Hector Street, the main street located in the middle of the town, divides Two Mills by race: blacks on East End, whites on West End. Jeffrey is confused by racial biases; to him, the people are simply people - heterogeneous, but with much in common, such as both kindness and cruelty.

Jeffrey first crosses over on the East End where the black people there stare at him. He is amazed by a giant ball of rope of twine located outside of a pizza place called "Cobble's Corner" owned by an elderly black man, Mr. Cobble, (Garret Morris). Anyone who can untie it wins a year supply of free pizza from his place. Mr. Cobble comes out and tells Jeffrey to go back to his own side. Jeffrey does so and comes across a kid's baseball game where he comes across a white teenager, Big John McNab (Adam Hendershott), who is a pitcher and is known for striking out many kids with his fast throw. His younger brothers, Russell and Piper McNab (Brandon de Paul and Isaiah Griffin), cheer him on from behind the gate. His good pitching still isn't enough to please his father, George McNab (Rip Torn), who urges him to do better. Jeffrey skips a line of kids waiting to bat to take on Big John. He manages to strike the ball so fast it disintegrates in the air. Big John takes Piper's pet frog to use as a bat to throw at Jeffrey next who hits it lightly. Big John has a hard time catching it as it's hopping around. When he does, he tells his friends to go after Jeffrey proclaiming him as a "maniac". Jeffrey makes a run for it back across the East End of Hector Street. The white boys are trapped on their end, but urges Jeffrey not to come back over.

On the East End, Jeffrey runs by a school and meets with a black girl his age named Amanda Beale (Kyla Pratt). Jeffrey first assumes she's running away since she's carrying a large suitcase, but Amanda tells him that it's her luggage of various books. Amanda asks Jeffrey if he knows where he is given his skin color and Jeffrey tells her no. Afterwards, he urges her to let him borrow a book to read and promises to bring it back to her. Jeffrey goes to read the book under a tree and catches the eye of a bully Mars Bar Thompson (Orlando Brown) and his friend Bump Gilliam (Shan Elliot). Mars goes to pick a fight with Jeffrey, ripping the page out of Amanda's book in the process. Amanda comes over and scolds Mars for doing that and sends him away. Amanda takes Jeffrey over to her house so he can fix her book. He tapes it up perfectly Amanda could barely see where it was torn at. Jeffrey meets Amanda's mother Martha (Rolonda Watts) who assumes Jeffrey isn't from the area. When Amanda asks if he can stay for dinner, her mother doesn't allow it until her younger children, boy and girl twins Lester and Ester, urges that they want him to stay around. After dinner, Mr. Beale (Richard Lawson) goes to drive Jeffrey home only to discover along the way he doesn't have a home to go to. He goes to take Jeffrey back to the house and has a talk with Martha showing concerns about him being there. Martha persuades him to let Jeffrey stay and wins him over. Jeffrey is allowed to stay for a while.

Jeffrey is treated with the absolute kindness by the Beales. Martha buys him new clothes. Lester and Ester promote Jeffrey's ability to untie knots to the other children in the neighborhood who come by to see him over by Amanda's tent. Jeffrey has another encounter with Mars Bar during a football game and accidentally knocks him down. Mars runs up to him asking if he wants a bite of his chocolate. Jeffrey says yes and Mars bites it, asking him again if he wants a bite. To Mars' surprise, Jeffrey still bites it. Back on Hector Street, a man collapses in front of Cobble's Corner. As Jeffrey tries to him up, the man scolds him to go back over to his own side. Mr. Cobble comes up to him and tells him to do the same. When he and Amanda return home, they find Martha scrubbing of profanity that was written on the house that says "FISH BELLY GO HOME". Jeffrey is horrified by this and doesn't understand why skin color should matter to anyone. He doesn't even want to be white since he finds it to be such a boring color. Amanda feels Jeffrey is considering leaving and doesn't want him to and suggest he goes with her to Mr. Cobble's store to untie his huge knot that no one has been able to do even the greatest of people. The next day, Mr. Cobble lets Jeffrey perform the task of untying the knot ball. Jeffrey amazes him and all the people around him when he successfully unties the ball. Mr. Cobble and many of the black bystanders cheer him on. The story is printed in the Two Mills Gazette. This angers Mars Bar who has his friends help him trash Amanda's tent and destroy her favorite book in the process. Jeffrey is heart broken by this and feels his presence there on the East End is making things worse. He leaves a note for the family and decides to run away and crosses over to the West End.

Jeffrey goes to sleep out in the woods near a trail and hears some one approaching. He jumps onto the trail where he finds Piper and Russell McNab, who are running away to Mexico. Jeffrey feels the food they have wouldn't last them ten miles and tells them how a running trip there left him scarred and tired. He suggests taking them back home and telling them more about it and then letting them decide for themselves if they still want to move forward with it. At the McNab house, they come across Big John who scolds the boys for attempting to run away for what is now the fifth time and how ballistic their dad will be when he hears about it. Big John promises but then feels he has business to settle with Jeffrey. The boys convince Big John not to mess with him due to how he handled him at the baseball game. Jeffrey makes up a story about John pitching a ball to him the next day and missing the hit. John convinces him to come home with them so he could tell his father that. Jeffrey went there feeling as though he could get the same kind of treatment there as he did at the Beale house. They go home to see Mr. McNab preparing for a war if the East End residents were to try to conquer onto their side. Mr. McNab keeps a stash of many cans of beans and prunes in his house and feels the Westies will try to come over and take them. Jeffrey tells him that he never hears of any beans and prunes or anyone battling for them. Feeling uncomfortable, he thinks about leaving. After taking Russell and Piper to the zoo and coming home and seeing them and their dad performing a drill to attack the Easties, he decides to head over to the East End.

Jeffrey meets with Amanda again who is able to see him. She tried to cross over to the West End but was afraid of standing out. Jeffrey tells her that the McNabs are nice deep down but needs her to help him keep Russell and Piper from turning out as crazy as their father. Amanda agrees and they go over to go to Mars Bar's house to help him. Mars Bar tries to intimidate Jeffrey telling him he better be scared of him. The two get into a beef match until Jeffrey declares he's too scared to cross over Hector street. He tells Mars Bar to come with him to Piper's party and Mars Bar declares he'll be there. That night, Jeffrey, Amanda, Mars Bar and his friends all show up surprising all the white guests. John and his friends goes to face off against Mars Bar and his friends and Mars Bar tells them not to cross over Hector street. Mr. McNab rages war on them and brings out a cannon. Mars Bar and his friends turn to leave and John calls them chicken. Afterwards an explosion sound is heard outside. They all go outside and see that Mars Bar and his friend blown apart the head of a statue outside of the house. Mr. McNab is stunned and tells John and his friend to go after them. Jeffrey and Amanda stay behind to watch.

Meanwhile, Piper and Russell go upstairs and try to fire bean cans at them from a window ledge. Piper slips from the window and falls. Mars Bar runs back and catches him. Russell runs off, knocking over the barrier of stone he and Piper was standing behind which falls towards the boys. Piper makes a run for it and Big John runs up and rescues Mars Bar pushing him out of the way. Big John thanks him for saving Piper as well as Mr. McNab who gives him a salute. With everyone now getting along, Jeffrey declares that they blow up the statue of the town's founder. Mr. McNab does this in honor of Mars Bar Thompson for saving his son. Afterwards, a spark then magically appears on the line of Hector Street separating the West and East Ends and erases it entirely, officially ending the segregation between the two sides. Whites and blacks on both sides come together and celebrate. Mr. McNab then declares that it's not the black people trying to steal their beans but the aliens from space. Jeffrey attempts to leave the town but Amanda declares he's coming back to her house and staying there for good.

The movie closes back to the present with the narrator telling the story to the group of kids she drove up to at the start of the movie. She states how the town became integrated, even a school being built to house both black and white kids. The narrator turns out to be an older Amanda who has married Jeffrey and had two kids. One of the kids she tells the story to turns out to be her daughter. Her friends are surprised that Amanda had married Jeffrey. The final scene shows older Magee throwing the ball to Junior, and he swings the ball with it smoking in the air, similar to what happened when Big John pitched the ball to Jeffrey several years before.


Differences from the book


  1. "Nickelodeon Adapts Newbery Winner to TV - MANIAC MAGEE" (Press release). Little, Brown and Company Children's Publishing. January 31, 2003. Retrieved 2016-03-01 via PR Newswire.
  2. Suzanne MacNeille (February 23, 2003). "FOR YOUNG VIEWERS; History Isn't a Matter of Black or White". The New York Times. Retrieved 2016-03-12.
  3. Allan Haldeman (June 18, 2003). "Humanitas taps 41 scribes". Variety. Retrieved 2016-03-01.
  4. "Children's Live Action Winners". The Humanitas Prize. Retrieved 2016-03-01.
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