Fly Away Home (U)

Directed by Carroll Ballard
Starring Jeff Daniels, Anna Paquin, Dana Delaney

Wonderfully charming family film that is too good to be just for kids. The amazingly talented Anna Paquin plays Amy, whose mother dies in the opening and she goes to live with her inventor dad Jeff Daniels in Ontario. She is an awkward child, particularly with dad's girlfriend Dana Delaney, but after developers clear a nearby marsh, she finds a clutch of geese eggs. Taking them home, Amy soon has her own little brood and begins to be happier with life. However, a problem soon arises when she realizes that her geese must be taught to fly south for the winter, and so Amy and her dad build microlight planes to fly the birds south.
This film works so well thanks to the unmawkish handling by director Ballard(he did Black Beauty from a few years back.) Too often family films go for soppy, over the top sentimental stuff. Not here though. The casting of Paquin and Daniels is just perfect. Paquin has such talent for a youngster. She suits the film in that she is not an over-emotional actor, conveying her feelings with her eyes more than anything. Her accent wavers between American and her native Aussie, but that is covered in the film by having her mother live in New Zealand. Daniels has long been one of my favourite actors since Something Wild. He is entirely convincing as a mad scientist type, but also very likeable.
The geese are very cute, and the photography is stunning. There are some lovely shots of the geese in flight.Indeed, the film has been nominated for an Oscar for its cinematography.
This film is based on a true story, in that there was a scientist who did the journey and proved that migratory birds could be led to winter homes by small aircraft. The drama angle, of a girl coming to terms with her mother's death, is nicely handled, and there is a touch of conservation issues thrown in too. I think this is probably the first film I have seen that has a wildlife ranger as the chief nasty!
This is that rare film that is based on an unusual plot, strong characters, nice photography, simple emotional issues and fine performances, rather than on marketing and McDonald's tie-ins. Definitely recommended. 8/10.

February 1997

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