Storm Boy **1/2

There’s an earnest sweetness that works, but be prepared for heavy-handed environmental and anti-hunting messages.  

Is it worth $10? Yes 

In “Storm Boy,” the message overwhelms the story. Ostensibly the tale of a boy and the pelican he raises from its infancy, the film plays more like a polemic exposing the evils of hunting and environmentally harmful corporate greed. Throw in themes of poverty, single parenting, and lost loved ones and you have a lot more going on – probably too much, actually – than the simple story of a boy and his pelican.  

Based on the 1963 novella by Colin Thiele and directed by Shawn Seet, the story balances the present with the 1950s. In the present is Michael (Geoffrey Rush), a retired corporate tycoon whose son-in-law Malcolm (Erik Thomson) now runs the business. Michael’s granddaughter Maddie (Morgana Davies) is outraged that the business’ latest policy will destroy vast swaths of land, and implores her grandfather to vote against it at a board of directors meeting. All the while, Michael is having visions, blurred memories of his childhood that prompt him to question what he’s doing.

Flashbacks to Michael’s childhood (played as a youngster by newcomer Finn Little) lend context and perspective. He’s a sweet boy being raised on the Australian coast by his single father (Jai Courtney), a fisherman who loves him dearly but is limited in what he can offer his son. One day Michael befriends an Aboriginal named Fingerbone Bill (Trevor Jamieson), and they discover three infant pelicans. Michael kindly nurses and names them: Mr. Proud, Mr. Ponder, and his clear favorite, Mr. Percival. Michael trains them to hunt on their own and fly, which pleases his father, who can’t afford to keep feeding each of the birds 10 pounds of fish every day. Danger abounds in the form of hunters.

As Michael grows closer with Percival, Seet’s film takes on an earnest sweetness. Michael is a kind and compassionate ten year-old, an innocent learning about the harsh realities of life whether he likes it or not. He’s not annoying, whiney or needy, as many kids in movies are. He takes full responsibility for the pelicans, and never demurs. The stoic and logical older Michael is similarly levelheaded. Rush’s performance is measured to show a quiet strength; Michael is clearly still affected by the events of his childhood, and heretofore hasn’t come to terms with how they’ve shaped who he is today. What’s more, it’s the events that he recalls for Maddie that empower his actions toward the end of the film, and to Seet’s credit, none of it feels forced or hokey.

In fact, the only thing that does feel forced are the overwhelming pleas for environmental protection and to stop hunting. Regardless of whether you agree with these messages, they are distracting to the point of annoyance. Worse, they take away from the gentility of the story in “Storm Boy,” an otherwise wholesome, PG-rated tale that is worthy of finding an audience.

Did you know?
The original “Storm Boy” (1976) won Best Film from the Australian Film Institute, and was one of 50 films selected for preservation by the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia. It’s available on DVD and Blu-Ray, and can be streamed by Amazon Prime members.

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