I'm surprised by the sanitized family discussion topic recommendations given for this movie by Common Sense Media because they leave out the real deal. This movie is a jaw-dropping and heartwarming depiction of the amazing resilience of three mixed-race girls who run away from oppressive and degrading circumstances in Australia in the first part of the 1900s after being kidnapped away from their mothers and homes by the so-called "Protector of Aborigines."
As "half caste" children of white fathers and Aborigine mothers, Molly, Daisy and Gracie are all subject to removal under the policies of the day, from the loving family and community where they belong, for the overtly racist purpose of raising them in white culture and breeding them with whites so that their own children and grandchildren supposedly may no longer be "tainted" by Aboriginal genetics. After the girls are ripped from mother's arms by state agents and carried to a home for children managed by white nuns 1200 miles away from home, 14-year-old Molly determines they will not stay. Although many children have tried to run away before them, they are always returned through the wiles of an Aborigine tracker who follows their footsteps. Molly however is herself well-versed in ways of tracking and finds ingenious methods of evading the expert's eye through many miles of wilderness, with 8- and 10-year olds in tow. The full force of state power is also on their trail, sending cars and publishing repeated bulletins to the public for their recapture. Many persons help the girls along their way, and their own expert knowledge of the environment and a spirit of fortitude help them along, even through the hot desert, and without maps to guide them. Over two months later, two of the girls arrive at home to a joyous greeting, the third having been recaptured when she attempted to board a train to meet her mother in a neighboring city.
The acting is convincing and effective. Visual effects are well-done and the landscape and peoples of Western Australian are beautifully portrayed. There is a lovely scene in the beginning where Molly is congratulated by her family after she tracks down a large lizard and extracts it from a tree for the family's supper pot. Intriguing traditions of song, dress, food, and spirituality are also portrayed, along with an explanation of the "rabbit proof fence" that helps them return home, the longest actual fence in the world. Traditional cultural knowledge and the strength of family ties are the champions in the end. The movie is enlivened at the finale by footage of the actual subjects of this true story, now elderly, with poignant updates on their history.
Age-related concerns for movie watchers involve primarily the emotional intensity of the story. A few notes of violence are briefly revealed. The kidnapping is graphically portrayed, the girls being scooped up by uniformed men, with women pounding and crying at the departing car. The grandmother is shown for a few seconds systematically beating her own bloody head with a rock in grief. Later, a police agent with a rifle and mother with a pointed stick have a tense but silent showdown of wills in the wooded area by a river, with no actual violence. More disturbingly, earlier in the movie at the home for children, a captured runaway is sent into a shack followed by a nun carrying scissors, being admonished "you knew what would happen," and we hear her crying out as she is beaten, cut or stabbed (it's not made clear which). All we see later is a partial image of her as Molly gazes through chinks in the hut at the girl's tear-stained and possibly bruised face. Although troubling it is more an allusion to violence than its open depiction, and necessary to understand the desire to get away. The "Protector" pays the home a visit and inspects the children's skin tones to determine which ones (those with lighter skins) will be sent to school, a particular humiliation to Molly. He is also seen lecturing a group of white Australians about the supposed moral superiority of whites, using slide images and some offensive race-based language such as "quadroons" to refer to persons of mixed-race, and refers repeatedly throughout the movie to "helping" the aborigines by removing their mixed-race children from them.
Great opportunities abound in this 90-minute, PG family flick to talk with children about important topics such as institutionalized racism in history and its abuses, about the diversity of cultures and cultural ideals, about the choice faced by the children in the home of whether to stay in an abusive situation and make the best of it, and about having the determination and know-how to act to save yourself when you really believe in something. There is yet another interesting choice when Gracie decides to leave the two other girls to try to meet her mother by train. The child protagonists all make strongly likeable heroes: sweet, canny, determined, and loyal to each other. Even though they didn't have it all planned out, they had the faith and courage, and the skill set needed to get started, and to respond to an evolving situation, making fools out of their well-meaning yet profoundly misguided pursuers, and achieving their objective in the end.