Sunday, August 27, 2006

Best Goose Weepie of All Time?

I found Fly Away Home in a Helston charity shop for 50p. We all watched it again, for the first time since 1997, a few days before Kitty was born.

It's a family animal weepie, a genre which I have seen far too many of in my time, but it's head and shoulders above the brand leader of that pack, Free Willy. It's got wonderful nature filming, good acting from Anna Paquin and Jeff Daniels, and a story that pulls the usual emotional stops, but leaves some things understated. And it's - sort of - true.

Right from the off, you're rooting for Amy (Anna Paquin). The movie opens and (more or less) closes with long sequences from her viewpoint, where the sound goes away, replaced by music. In that, it's very reminiscent of the fantastic Black Stallion, also directed by Caroll Ballard.

The movie doesn't suffer from the two-dimensional "bad guys" who are probably the most irritating feature of the animal weepie. In the other movies, the bad guys try to kill the whale, dolphin, dog, bear, reindeer or whatever animal the film's about; they usually try to kill the child hero (who's such a whingeing brat you wish they'd succeed). They also endanger the local environment with their evil money-making schemes.

At the end of these movies, the bad guys lose, of course. They get punished. But these are kids' movies, so nothing really bad can happen to them. Nine times out of ten, at the climax of the movie, the bad guys fall in the water. And that's it.

Fly Away Home has a game warden who's not a bad guy - he's against developers but tries to play by the rules. And at the end, a developer just sighs and turns off his JCB. Much more satisfying, much more true.

How true is the movie in the factual sense? I was disappointed to find that Amy is completely invented. There was no girl-with-no-mother, who led her geese to freedom. That whole part of the story is constructed - including a childhood in New Zealand to explain Anna Paquin's accent.

But the dad is based on Bill Lishman, a real sculptor, inventor and pioneer. He was involved in the film, which came out only three years after he really did lead a flock of geese from Canada to the US (a story which apparently everyone else heard of but I missed somehow). He "imprinted" geese for the film, to follow the actors, and the planes they used. His Operation Migration is now working with Whooping Cranes.

I'm impressed by the speed with which they got the story together, and got the film made.

And there's something else. The video box tells me it's the "RSPB's Flim of the Year". I can see that, and the RSPB does sell DVDs, but does it have a film of the year every year? What other movies got the award? Chicken Run? The Birds?

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