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  Fly Away Home Winged Migration
Year: 1996
Director: Carroll Ballard
Stars: Jeff Daniels, Anna Paquin, Dana Delaney, Terry Kinney, Holter Graham, Jeremy Ratchford, Deborah Verginella, Michael J. Reynolds, David Hemblen, Ken James
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 2 votes)
Review: Thirteen-year-old Amy Alden (Anna Paquin) had lived in New Zealand for ten years with her mother until one night a terrible tragedy occured and there was a car crash. Amy's mother was dead, and her estranged father Tom (Jeff Daniels) came from Canada to take her home; however, the girl was traumatised and did not respond well to him, seeing as how she had not seen him in all this time and barely remembered him. Tom lived out in the middle of nowhere and worked as an artist and inventor, but none of this interested Amy, so what could possibly bring them together and lift Amy out of her depression?

I'll give you a clue: they're covered with feathers. Fly Away Home was one of director Carroll Ballard's many beautifully filmed works with a nature theme, this time taken from the real-life experiments of scientist Bill Lishman who discovered you could train young geese to follow light aircraft on a migratory journey. Onto this pioneering bit of research screenwriters Robert Roday and Vince McKewin built up a tale of a girl getting over bereavement, accepting her father's love and managing to stand on her own two feet, all very inspirational.

Fortunately for anyone with a low tolerance for sentimentality, the handling is careful not to go over the top, and while there is what could be seen as a tree-hugging message about looking after the environment, it's rare that this becomes strident. There are times when Ballard veers close to lecturing, but he always keeps in sight the humanity of his story, and he is helped enormously by sympathetic performances, especially from Daniels and Paquin who depict an awkward relationship that blooms into one of mutual respect with great sensitivity.

After the misery of the opening, where Amy loses her mother and cannot readjust to life in Canada, a land development scheme nearby, one which Tom is very much opposed to, starts up. While the damage to the countryside is undeniable, there is a blessing when Amy discovers some abandoned goose eggs in the churned up forest, and she takes them home to hatch them. And hatch they do, with the goslings believing that she is their mother and following her around to her call of "Hey, hey, hey" in many heartwarming scenes.

But the local ranger tells Amy that he must clip the birds' wings if they are to be kept as pets, because soon they will be flying and without a parent to guide them they will probably get into accidents. She is horrified, so just as Tom must be a dad to Amy to help her through, Amy must mother the chicks, leading to the film's best sequences where she and Tom realise they must teach the geese, as they have grown into, to fly south for the winter. Ballard and cinematographer Caleb Deschanel reallly surpass themselves with the imagery here, as Amy learns to fly and takes her goose-shaped aircraft to the skies, guiding her charges to their destination, which, in a rather too pointed development, is about to be destroyed to make way for housing if there is a lack of wildlife there. And yet, the film manages not to be too heavy handed, emerging as a moving and deeply felt recognition of nature and nurture. Music by Mark Isham.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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