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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Storm Boy is a drama based on a children's novella by Colin Thiele that's taught in Australian schools. It's a pro-ecological tale about a boy's love for an orphaned pelican and his awakening about the importance of defending wildlife and protecting nature. Everyone in the movie is in mourning -- all of the main characters have lost parents, wives, and/or children -- and the ending is a major heart-wrencher (worse than Old Yeller, but not as harsh as The Yearling). But beautiful relationships shine through, including that of the boy, his dad, and a lonely indigenous man who passes on his tribal customs to the boy. That said, the way the boy and the indigenous man meet might be cause for a talk with your kids: The man approaches the boy in a remote area and assures him that he's friendly; the next thing you know, the boy brings the man back to his house, where (phew) the man insists on waiting outside, since the boy's father isn't home. Expect to see guns in action (hunters shoot and kill birds, and bloody bird carcasses are seen) and adults drinking. Language is minimal, sex isn't an issue, and themes include compassion, empathy, and teamwork.
What's the story?
Based on the same-named Australian children's novella by Colin Thiele, STORM BOY revolves around a grandfather (Geoffrey Rush) who faces an important vote on whether to allow mining on the farmlands he controls. In light of his teen granddaughter's pleas to vote against the action, the man recalls his childhood experiences growing up on a remote island where he rescued baby pelicans who were orphaned by hunters.
Is it any good?
For the Australians who grew up reading Thiele's treasured book, this drama will no doubt be a captivating, special tale; for those unfamiliar, it will be more of a challenge to stay engaged. Australian children are taught Storm Boy (the book) in elementary school: The story is full of exploration and adventure, love, loss, unexpected friendship, finding your voice, appreciating other cultures, and understanding the importance of protecting nature. This adaptation brings those elements to life, but it wraps the child's story into an adult one -- and, in doing so, it's likely to lose younger audiences within the first 10 minutes. From there, the story moseys along at a pace that might bore some kids.
On the other hand, who knew pelicans could make such good friends? The antics featuring young Michael's (Finn Little) pet, Mr. Percival, are adorable, and a memorable game of hide-and-seek is downright precious. Kids almost always respond to seeing others their age playing with wild animals; it's a fantasy come true. But the cheer comes to a devastating conclusion, and that defies the direction of most of today's family movies. The boy's hard work and protective measures don't pay off, in the cruelest of ways. Writer Justin Monjo has a cinematic fix for that, explaining that the tragedy wasn't in vain and allowing the teen girl in the modern story to succeed. But even the most thick-skinned kids may be shell-shocked by the film's conclusion.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the messages of Storm Boy. What is it saying about hunting? About conservation?
What are the different ways the film shows individuals, including children, fighting for change? How did Michael get others to think about the importance of giving birds and animals a sanctuary?
What do you think of how grief and loss are portrayed in Storm Boy? How do Michael as a boy, Michael as an old man, Hideaway Joe, and Madeline each work through their loss?
How do Michael, Hideaway Joe, and Fingerbone Bill exemplify teamwork in saving the baby pelicans' lives? Why is this a crucial life skill?
- In theaters: April 5, 2019
- Cast: Geoffrey Rush, Jai Courtney, Finn Little
- Director: Shawn Seet
- Studio: Good Deed Entertainment
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Adventures, Book Characters, Great Boy Role Models, Ocean Creatures
- Character Strengths: Compassion, Empathy
- Run time: 98 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: some thematic elements, mild peril and brief language
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