Movie review: Australian family film 'Storm Boy' a stirring tale of love and loss

 
 
Updated 4/5/2019 9:55 AM
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  • Mike (Finn Little) befriends a pelican named Mr. Percival in the Australian drama "Storm Boy."

    Mike (Finn Little) befriends a pelican named Mr. Percival in the Australian drama "Storm Boy." Courtesy of A Good Deed Entertainment

"Storm Boy" - ★ ★ ★

We learn early on in "Storm Boy" that whenever someone kills a pelican, a storm follows.

A lot of storms happen in this movie.

"Storm Boy" hits us hard with loss. Loss of loved ones. Loss of innocence. Loss of youth. Loss of purpose.

Yet, in telling the tale of a boy's friendship with a perky pelican named Mr. Percival, "Storm Boy" -- the second movie based on Colin Thiele's beloved 1963 Australian novel -- gives us hope that the idealism of youth can overcome the shortsightedness and self-interest of adults.

This elegantly composed w-i-d-e-s-c-r-e-e-n Australian family feature combines the emo elements from two boy-and-his-pet classic films, "Lassie Come Home" and "The Yearling."

Aussie actor Geoffrey Rush plays Michael Kingley, a retired businessman and grandfather who begins to see visions from his childhood. His conscience?

His fiery, pro-environment teen granddaughter Maddy (Morgana Davies) hates her father, Kingley's son-in-law Malcolm Downer (Erik Thomson), a corporate big-shot anxious to transform a huge chunk of land into a mining operation instead of a nature preserve for wildlife.

Pressed by his visions, widower Michael tells Maddy about growing up with his own widower father Tom (Jai Courtney) in a desolate shack near the beach -- near the place where young Mike (a luminous Finn Little) finds three hatchlings whose mother has just been shot by thuggish hunters.

Mike takes them in and feeds them, with help from Fingerbone Bill (Trevor Jamieson), a spiritual aboriginal man with his own sad story of losing the love of his life.

Mike names the birds Mr. Ponder, Mr. Proud and Mr. Percival.

"Storm Boy," directed by noted TV miniseries director Shawn Seet (with all the empathy and compassion missing from Tim Burton's "Dumbo"), hits its narrative stride with these flashbacks, wonderfully constructed memories of a boy's friendship with unusual playmates.

Eventually, Tom convinces Mike he's got to let his birds fly off on their own adventures. So, the comically committed Mike trains his birds to be self-sufficient in the wild.

Just when you think you'll hear a song titled "Hatched Free," the story takes a twist.

Mr. Percival, Mike's favorite, flies home and refuses to leave his human friend's side.

Of course, these scenes of fun and joy run into life's less appealing experiences, among them local hunters who shoot anything in the air for sport.

As the retired Michael reminds Maddy, "Any story that's good must go wrong before it gets better."

"Storm Boy" doesn't explain how older Michael vividly recalls conversations between Tom and Fingerbone Bill while he was asleep. Or how Bill always pops up at just the moment he's needed.

These issues easily wash away in a storm of bittersweet precipitation.

"Storm Boy" opens at Schaumburg's Streets of Woodfield theaters and South Barrington theaters.

The limited release might be because of box office concerns over recent allegations of inappropriate behavior by Rush during a theater production of "King Lear."

Or it could be that "Storm Boy," despite its intriguing title, isn't about a superhero.

• • •

Starring: Geoffrey Rush, Jai Courtney, Finn Little, Trevor Jamieson

Directed by: Shawn Seet

Other: A Good Deed Entertainment release. Rated PG. At Schaumburg's Streets of Woodfield and the South Barrington Theaters. 98 minutes

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