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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Hunt for the Wilderpeople -- which centers on a Maori boy who ends up in the care of a cranky old hunter near the New Zealand bush -- is an engaging mix of buddy comedy, coming-of-age drama, and family adventure. You can expect some swearing ("s--t," "bastard," "ass") and violent scenes, mostly revolving around hunting, an animal attack, and the death of beloved pet. People are also held at gunpoint and are injured, and one character dies suddenly of natural causes. Ricky tells stories (which aren't true) about abuse/molestation by a foster parent. On the upside, there are great messages about teamwork, friendship, and not judging people too quickly. It's an excellent pick for families with older tweens/younger teens who are interested in something a little outside the mainstream.
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What's the story?
HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE is set in New Zealand, where Ricky (Julian Dennison), a tween Maori boy, gets one last shot as a foster kid with rural farmers Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and her curmudgeonly husband, Hec (Sam Neill), who tolerates the kid for his wife's benefit. Ricky is just starting to get used to his new "auntie" and "uncle" when circumstances leave Ricky and Hec on their own. With child protection services -- led by humorless case worker Paula (Rachel House) -- prepared to take Ricky to juvenile detention, the boy instead heads into the bush with his dog Tupac. Hec follows him, but after an accident, the two must stay in the bush so long that the authorities launch a manhunt to find Ricky and his alleged "kidnapper." The odd couple, of course, believes that staying in the bush and living off the land is the only way to avoid capture.
Is it any good?
This charming odd-couple adventure is the well-acted story of a down-and-out Maori kid and his grouchy foster parent. Quirky and offbeat like all of director Taika Waititi's films, Hunt for the Wilderpeople could have devolved into the cliched or overly familiar (how many stories are there are about foster kids or orphans?), but it manages to stay on the right side of endearing thanks to the chemistry between Dennison and Neill, who, despite having a perpetual frown, looks like he was having the time of his life acting opposite Dennison's dynamic force of optimism and cheer.
As the loving and attentive Bella, Te Wiata is the ideal foster mom, paying attention to all the little details, like making sure Ricky has a "hottie" (hot water bottle) on his pillow every night to keep him warm and cuddly. But she's also fierce enough to slit a wild pig's throat and then casually say to Ricky "well, that's dinner." Her foil is the hilariously hard-nosed child protective services' case worker Paula, who will stop at nothing to "rescue" a boy she considers a "bad egg." But this isn't ultimately their story. It's the story of city-kid Ricky, who learns to appreciate and even love the bush as much as his "uncle" Hec, a man who may not know how to read words but knows how to survive -- something they both become adept at doing together.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what aspects of "buddy movies" Hunt for the Wilderpeople exhibits. Why do you think movies about odd-couple teams are so compelling?
Is Hunt for the Wilderpeople a comedy, a drama, an adventure, or all three? What defines each of those genres?
What is the movie's message about family?
- In theaters: June 24, 2016
- On DVD or streaming: October 7, 2016
- Cast: Sam Neill, Julian Dennison, Rima Te Wiata
- Director: Taika Waititi
- Studio: The Orchard
- Genre: Comedy
- Topics: Book Characters, Friendship, Horses and Farm Animals
- Character strengths: Teamwork
- Run time: 101 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: thematic elements including violent content, and for some language
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Selection
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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