- Emma Simmonds
- 6 April 2020
Geoffrey Rush and Jai Courtney star in this largely successful update of the beloved children's tale
'Any story that's good has to go wrong before it gets better,' a wizened businessman warns his granddaughter, as he fondly recalls a formative heartache. The second adaptation of Australian author Colin Thiele's classic children's book, following Henri Safran's acclaimed 1976 take, updates it by adding a modern framing device; although tying it more obviously to our time, the new material is crude by comparison, with returns to the original tale tugging most surely at the heartstrings.
Geoffrey Rush is retiree Michael Kingley, whose family business is now in the hands of his ruthless son-in-law Malcolm (Erik Thomson), following the death of his daughter. When Michael arrives back in Adelaide to vote on the lease of indigenous land for mining, his thoughts return to his isolated, beach-shack upbringing with his gruff loner father (Jai Courtney), known locally as 'Hideaway Tom'. The young Michael is played winningly by Finn Little. This big-hearted boy scoops up a trio of orphaned pelican chicks, after their mother is killed by hunters, and raises them tenderly as his own; in the process, he befriends a genial Aboriginal Australian called Fingerbone Bill (Trevor Jamieson).
As the older Michael recounts his remarkable childhood, the angst of his gratingly privileged adolescent granddaughter Madeline (Morgan Davies) – whose environmental conscience places her at odds with her father – is pretty unappealing, but when the original story takes over it's impossible not to get swept up in the sheer loveliness of the tale. Courtney and Jamieson give it some emotional heft, playing strong-but-silent types, the interactions with the birds are charmingly done and the awkward, uncutesiness of the animals in question is refreshing; the film embraces its conceptual oddity in a number of sequences, such as the pelicans playing football with Michael, or accompanying him into town.
There are rare moments where it's hard not to squawk with laughter for the wrong reasons, but this film from Shawn Seet is sweet enough to be a slam dunk for animal lovers, while Bruce Young's crisp, cool cinematography acts like a fresh breeze through a sentimental, largely loveable story.
Available to watch on demand from Mon 6 Apr.