Fly Away Home

(Carroll Ballard, USA, 1996)


Fly Away Home is a surprisingly touching and poetic film.

The story sounds like the same old, formulaic pap. After the death of her mother, little Amy (Anna Paquin) is forced to live with her incommunicative father, Thomas (Jeff Daniels), on a farm in Ontario. Amy’s vitality is only rekindled when she rescues a nest of goose eggs. Due to the biological code of imprinting, Amy becomes, for all intents and purposes, the mother of this flock of geese.

But the day comes, as in many an animal tale, when these geese must fly south. How will they find their way? At last, Thomas’ penchant for crazy ideas and inventions comes in handy: he will teach Amy to fly, and she will guide her children home.

Director Carroll Ballard (The Black Stallion, 1979) is a true artist within the much maligned area of the kids’ film, and his talents are usually overlooked. His style displays an abundant love of nature, light and movement, and his lyricism often tends to the reflective and sombre.

As far-fetched as it may seem, there are moments when Fly Away Home resembles a version of Kieslowski’s Three Colours: Blue (1993) made for children. Both films start with traumatic car accidents; both are about the grieving and healing process undergone by a woman; both evoke a rapturous, redemptive relation to all living things (especially animals). And both directors give us lingering, affecting portraits of their heroine’s faces bathed in colour and shadow.

Once the geese start flying, however, such lofty comparisons tend to disappear. We settle into more familiar feel-good territory, as all the eyes of America turn skyward, and everyone cheers on this plucky little girl and her quest. In the closing scenes, Ballard weighs in on behalf of environmentalism, and against big, bad developers who want to bulldoze the wetlands.

The political message – like the treatment of the dysfunctional father-daughter relationship – is pretty simple stuff. But Fly Away Home is, on every level, a superior film for children. It is among the very few movies that is able to take the obligatory shots of kids and animals behaving cutely, and find within these images a moving, dramatic truth.

© Adrian Martin December 1996

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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