Fly Away Home
Genre: Kids & Family
Runtime: 1 hr 47 min
MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Carroll Ballard
Starring: Jeff Daniels, Anna Paquin, Dana Delany, Terry Kinney, Holter Graham
It is a delight for all ages, and miracle of miracles, it does this without any crude jokes or anything offensive.
Review by: SteveRhodes
Added: 3 years ago
Fantasies that the whole family can enjoy are few and far between. Studios executives generally look for kids' shows with minimum intelligence and maximum slapstick humor. The result is that these films are either major silly in an attempt to play down to the little tykes or they are full of gross bathroom humor thinking that is the only type that will keep the attention of the teens and subteens. FLY AWAY HOME proves them wrong. It is a delight for all ages, and miracle of miracles, it does this without any crude jokes or anything offensive.
The story opens in New Zealand where a car crash leaves 14 year old Amy Alden (Anna Paquin) without a mother. She goes to live in Ontario, Canada with her Dad, Thomas (Jeff Daniels). He is an inventor and sculptor whose chief passion is building and flying ultralight planes and gliders. Amy has not seen him in ages. He rationalizes that New Zealand is far away, to which she grumbles, "That's a lame excuse." So far the show is nothing more than your formulaic despondent adolescent flick.
The fantasy kicks in when loggers come and cut down the trees nearby where Canadian geese are nesting. Amy finds about 15 eggs left by the scared mother geese. She takes them to her room and creates an incubator out of nothing more than a blanket, a chest, and a portable light. One of the attractions of the show for parents is it provides good role models for their children. Amy is inventive, dedicated, and compassionate. In a perfect metaphor, Amy comes out of her shell when the cute little geese come out of theirs, and she discovers that her dad is a great resource and her biggest supporter.
Jeff Daniels is one of my favorite lessor known actors. From his recent 2 DAYS IN THE VALLEY to his best performance ever in GETTYSBURG, he adds something special to the roles he plays. Here his relentless approach is both exhausting and inspiring to watch.
Anna Paquin (THE PIANO and JANE EYRE), who is a dead ringer for a Welsh girl named Lizzie that Jeffrey met on vacation this summer in Denmark, is charm personified. Her every motion is graceful, and when she is one with the geese, it becomes hard not to cry for reasons having to do with nothing more than the love of life that she radiates.
Also visiting and sometime living in Tom's house is his girlfriend Susan Barnes (Dana Delany) and his sort of daffy brother David (Terry Kinney). On meeting Amy, David greets her with, "You must be Amy. I gave you Silly Putty once for Christmas. You ate it."
Besides the fantasy aspect there are two compelling reasons to see the show. One is the inventiveness previously mentioned, but the most enchanting is the rapport between Amy and her geese. She becomes their mother, and a better mother or more loyal children could not be imagined.
The tension in the story is that the geese must migrate in two months or they will die, and without adult geese to show them the way, they will not know how to get there or ever get back. Soon a plan is hatched whereby they built an ultralight plane that can fly at the slow speed of the geese and can direct them to a preserve in North Carolina. Amy ends up flying the plane. The show then is about the geese growing up while Amy prepares for and then flies the big flight.
You will soon lose count of the many precious scenes in the picture, but let me cover a few lovely ones that brought me joy and mirth. When they are young, Amy has the geese on a cloth on the kitchen table where they demonstrate their lack of litter box training. Tom shakes his head about what he has gotten himself into.
The scenes of the geese waddling behind Amy had the entire audience smiling and was mentioned as a favorite by the kids that accompanied us to the picture. The most breathtaking scene and the one most likely to engender tears was the sheer majesty of the scene where Amy's minions follow her on her first big flight.
The cinematography by Caleb Deschanel (THE NATURAL, THE RIGHT STUFF, and THE BLACK STALLION) is the key underpinning to the film's success. He has a genius for knowing just how to form a visual. When filming the egg breaking he alternates between sharp close-up work on the eggs to a wide-angle look at Amy's face as it glows in awe of the new, little life forms. In FLY AWAY HOME he uses a lot of shadow work to accentuate the warm browns and earth tones of his color palette. His aerial shots are certainly the most spectacular. That crazy little plane with the geese flying behind filmed against the clouds and the sunset is a marvelous sight to behold.
The villain is provided effectively by the local wildlife agent. Since the geese are the "property of the crown," he tries to clip their wings. In this show, his fingernail clippers were as effective as the weapon in THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. Amy steps in and saves her geese, but the villain will return.
Taken as a fantasy, the film makes perfect sense. Don't ruin it for yourself by over analyzing it. When they finish the plane that will make the journey, Uncle Dave says, "With this baby you could fly over the Empire State Building." Less confident Tom concludes, "or end up as a big pound of ground round. One of the two." This was my son's favorite line. Only Susan is concerned with reality so she warns Tom, "Broken promises are the worst. Better not to promise anything."
Director Carroll Ballard (THE BLACK STALLION and NEVER CRY WOLF) has an imaginative and deft touch. Why Ballard has only made five films in seventeen years is a mystery to me. The fine script was written by Robert Rodat and Vince McKewin, and is based on the autobiography by Bill Lishman.
I do have two quibbles with the movie. First, why do we have the scene where the Uncle gives Amy a nose ring which she then wears for the rest of the picture. This would get her kicked out of school in most school districts, and she is the only person in the film with such body jewelry. If this was a film about generation Xers, I would understand, but this little fourteen year old is the epitome of sweetness and innocence. The nose ring is just out of character.
Second, why did we need the cliched subplot where the environmentalists are shown confronting evil capitalists, or is that an oxymoron in movies, who are raping nature. Rather than just have her racing to get the geese to the preserve before winter, we have her getting there before a developer bulldozes down the land to build houses. We have a guy putting his body in front of the bulldozer while waiting for Amy's plane to arrive. Kids' movies uniformly show environment issues as totally one sided. That these kids live in houses made of lumber, drive cars powered by gasoline, and generally do lots of things where environmental tradeoffs are made every day is never discussed. Just mention the word environment and you have trumped any possible argument.
FLY AWAY HOME runs 1:47. It is rated PG for three mild cuss words and a very subtlety handled car crash. There is no sex, nudity, or violence. The film would be fine for kids of absolutely any age, but should delight adults as well. We took Jeffrey (age 7) and his neighborhood friends Jessica (age 7) and George (age 5) to see the picture. They all loved it with Jeffrey giving it six thumbs up. Never were they scared, and they were entranced with it from beginning to end. I loved the show and think you will too so I recommend it and give it ***.