movie film review | chris tookey

Fly Away Home

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  Fly Away Home Review
Tookey's Rating
9 /10
Average Rating
7.75 /10
Thomas Alden .......... Jeff Daniels , Amy Alden ............. Anna Paquin , Susan Barnes .......... Dana Delany
Full Cast >

Directed by: Carroll Ballard
Written by: Robert Rodat and Vince McKewin . Based on the autobiography by Bill Lishman

Released: 1996
Genre: DRAMA
Origin: US
Length: 110


Girl meets geese.

Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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Amy (Anna Paquin) is thirteen and she’s been living a peripatetic existence with her folk-singer mother in New Zealand. When Amy opens her eyes in hospital after a car crash, it’s to see the hippieish father she hasn’t seen in ten years (Jeff Daniels).
He takes her back to his farm house in backwoods Canada, where she makes uneasy contact with his live-in girl-friend (Dana Delaney). Amy doesn’t feel much in common with her new environment, and dad is downright weird. He makes eccentric metal sculptures of dragons, invents things that have no obvious use, such as a replica of the lunar landing module, and indulges his hobby of trying to fly, which makes him look ridiculous when he crashes, which is often.
The father-daughter relationship fails even more spectacularly to get off the ground. The grieving Amy understandably distrusts a man who couldn’t be bothered to fly south to see her for ten years. One day, however, she discovers a nest of orphaned goose eggs, takes them home, and rigs up a makeshift incubator. Clearly, she’s inherited some of her father’s inventing skills.
The eggs hatch, and the Canada geese that emerge instinctively follow Amy as though she’s their mother. They’re endearing playmates and nurturing them enables Amy to get over her grief; but there’s one big snag - they have to be taught to fly, and in the goose world this can be done only by their mother. This is where dad’s aerial hobby comes in; but even when they have been taught to fly by example, there’s the small matter of their thirteen year-old “mother” leading them on their 500-mile migration south in the Autumn...
The bare bones of the story may sound like a straightforward stroppy-kid-gets-life-turned-around-by-lovable-creature yarn along the lines of Free Willy or Flipper ; but it’s classier than either. This is a wonderful movie, one to send the spirits soaring. Director Carroll Ballard made a big success with a modest children’s film called The Black Stallion . Seventeen years later, he reunited with cinematographer Caleb Deschanel and achieved something even more memorable. Typical of the taste and attention to detail is Mark Isham’s excellent score which, like everything else in the movie, continually avoids the expected.
The film is fascinating on many levels, not least as near-documentary. The father-daughter story is an invention, but the central father is based on Bill Lishman, a Canadian artist who had the bright idea in the late Eighties of using Ultra light aircraft to teach geese to fly - a technique which is now being used to teach rarer breeds, like whooping cranes and trumpeter swans, to find safer migratory routes.
The biggest star of this film is the photography. The aerial shots over Autumnal countryside (and even, at one point, through city streets) are heart-stoppingly beautiful. Much of the movie has the glow which shows that the crew were waiting for the “magic Hour” (the hour or so before dusk when nature provides its softest back-lighting) and there’s a sunset shot which is as inspiring as that moment when Steven Spielberg sent a bicycle across the moon in E.T.
Working with birds under unpredictable weather conditions must have been a nightmare, as must have been rigging heavyweight movie cameras on micro-light aircraft, but the results are shots which have never been achievable before. They really give an audience the feeling of being a bird, a sense of the beauty of flight.
This is also an exceptional drama about a father-daughter relationship. Robert Rodat and Vince McKewin’s intelligent script is rewarded with first-rate acting. Anna Paquin gives a better performance than the one which won her an Oscar in The Piano , charting a subtle course through to reconciliation with her father’s oddball ideals. This is the best film I’ve seen about that awkward, confusing age when a young girl is on the cusp between being a child and becoming a woman.
Jeff Daniels has the same down-to-earth charm that has elevated Tom Hanks to superstardom. Since being Jim Carrey’s sidekick in Dumb and Dumber , Daniels seems to have caught a little - but thankfully, not too much - of Carrey’s dynamism and eccentricity. They mesh perfectly here in a role which traces with great sensitivity the moment when a free-spirited single man has to learn the responsibilties of fatherhood.
This is a story with little time for villains. There’s an officious wildlife officer in Ontario, and a rapacious property speculator in North Carolina, but their identity and motivation are left a little too hazy for my liking. There is one horrible line of dialogue, when Daniels solemnly tells his daughter “Your mother is in the geese” (which sounds uncomfortably like “Your dinner is in the oven”), but these lapses don’t seriously detract from a film which elsewhere avoids the banal.
Even very small children will be captivated by Fly Away Home , but grown-ups should flock to it as well. It is more than a classic children’s film. Like Babe or Disney’s Beauty and the Beast , it’s a film for everyone.

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