MOVIE REVIEW: Storm Boy
STORM BOY— 4 STARS
Right up this website’s alley, Mercola’s Healthy Pets website outlines ten life lessons that pet ownership can teach children. The article’s superb list includes (syn) compassion, responsibility, trust, bereavement, respect, self-esteem, physical activity, loyalty, patience, and social skills. Now, for most of us stateside, our preferred companions are often dogs and cats. The canines and felines get movies for days from Old Yeller to The Secret Life of Pets. In South Australia’s coastlands, the prevailing animal neighbors are birds. So, how well do you know a pelican? Come to Storm Boy and find yourself newly enamored.
The movies that highlight wonderful relationships between pet and child become reminders to viewers of the impact of those bonding experiences. The best among them ring those life lessons incredibly true. Australia’s national treasure Storm Boy did it once in 1977 and its 2019 remake does it again. One of the many beauties of the film is that its teachable value doesn’t end with those pet hallmarks. Storm Boy is as much about its people and settings as it is about its a boy and the bird that never leaves his side.
Based on the cherished 1964 children’s novel by Colin Thiele, this story is rooted in the Coorong region of South Australia. Its national park is a remote and expansive lagoon and dune ecosystem where oceanic life cycles of land and water denizens meet. A retired businessman named Mike Kingley, played by Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush, grew up in this region and looks back on it fondly. At the present, Mike is overseeing his son (Erik Thomson) shifting the way his former company operates amid negative local environmental protests. No matter what tired and urban state he finds himself in at the juncture of this governing decision, Mike sees flashes of his youthful memories and it leads him from the city back to the coastal countryside of the Morgan River.
LESSON #1: RECOLLECTING CHILDHOOD — This has been said in many other movies, but the quieter and older among us carry a lifetime’s worth of experiences that lie beneath our own. Trinkets and locations we may see as arbitrary become triggers to stories and reminders of times, people, and places no longer with us or the same as they are now. Through dialogue quotes like “sometimes you forget the best things you ever learned,” Mike has these moments often and we see how they truly matter.
Urged to see the conservation and land rights issues at hand, Kingley begins to recount to his protest-sympathizer granddaughter Madeline (Morgan Davies) the resplendent tale that defined his life and earned him the titular nickname. As a young boy (played by Finn Little in his feature debut), Mike lived with his reclusive widowed father Tom (Jai Courtney) in a small shoreline cabin. The two made a little world of their seaside lifestyle among the boats, birds, and indigenous locals. Left to his own wiles outside of occasional homeschooling without any peers his age, Mike struck up a friendship with the kindly Fingerbone Bill (Trevor Jamieson) as they orphaned back to health three abandoned pelican chicks. When they grew up enough to return to the wild on their own, one of them named Mr. Percival was too attached to leave and followed Mike everywhere he went as a loving companion.
LESSON #2: ECHO THE ENTIRE LIST OF PET OWNERSHIP LIFE LESSONS — There’s not one lesson from the aforementioned Healthy Pets list of ten that does not manifest itself prominently in some way during the scope Storm Boy. If anything, we see their lasting reverberations into adulthood through bookending use of the senior Rush. His reflective side of the story is a galvanizing addition to this new movie from novel and previous hit film from screenwriter Justin Monjo (Jungle). The dignity and ponderance from him stand as an excellent bridge between past and present.
LESSON #3: ADD ONE MORE LESSON: HEROISM — One additional ribbon is a triumph of will and spirit achieved by Mike through his attachment with Mr. Percival. Any peculiarity to seeing any of these tried-and-true formative steps of pets applied to a pelican melts with the affecting performance of the debuting Finn Little. His dramatic half of the emotive bonding is wonderful to behold. The whimsical feelings of earnestness from Finn produce genuine swells other movies would top with cheap syrup. Anything dour here is honest when flushed with connection and adoration.
Equally soaring and stoic is the aesthetic of film itself. Storm Boy graces the screen with natural and cinematic serenity to guide this touching reminiscence. Shot on location in Coorong, the sweeping cinematography from TV veteran Bruce Young is exquisite beyond words. Each winged turn, pushing breeze, and breaking wave captured by the camera characterizes the specialness of these settings and the draw for the people who call them home. Composer Alan John backs that imagery with a quaint and fitting musical score. From production craft like this to the thematic storytelling of inspiration, Storm Boy carries a simple sweetness that deserves an audience.
LESSON #4: PROTECT OUR SHORES AND WATERS — The previous film adaptation from 1977, which included Aboriginal Australian legend David Gulpili (who appears briefly again in the new one) was a window to the world for the island continent. In its own country, Storm Boy continued a conversation and awareness effort in Australia to protect more of the precious natural habitats of their country. This modern update of the timeline amplifies the environmental debates that still resonate nearly 50 years after the source novel. That mindfulness is an important takeaway no matter your nation of origin.