(Karl Zwicky, Australia, 1997)


There was a precise moment, early on, when Paws completely won me over.

PC, a terrier, is patiently explaining to his new master, Zac (Nathan Cavaleri), how his prodigious computer skills can allow him to speak with the voice of Billy Connolly. PC barks in dog language, and then the computer decodes and broadcasts in human language. Zac, disbelieving, grabs the mike and goes "woof, woof". The computer translates this as: "Hi, I'm Fido, please sniff my bum." PC consoles his embarrassed friend: "It's a dog thing."

Paws is a great school holiday film. Most of its elements are familiar: a cheeky mutt, a fresh-faced, pre-pubescent hero with family problems, a wicked witch villain of European descent (Sandy Gore as Anja), escalating chases and pratfalls. But the combination is brought together with a pace, freshness and wit that puts the lumbering Men in Black (1997) to shame.

Paws is the best Australian film for children since Playing Beatie Bow (1986), and it achieves a similarly satisfying blend of local geography (inner-city Sydney, in this case) with fairy-tale thrills and fantasy. Director Karl Zwicky, writer Harry Cripps and cinematographer Geoff Burton give this airy soufflé just enough action-drama bite to ensure that it works splendidly.

The film maintains its levels of comedy, intrigue and pathos from start to end. It is a busy movie which is highly respectful of its young audience's intelligence, unafraid to dangle plot enigmas and indulge throwaway jokes (many of them outrageous). It even touches upon problems in adult relationships, as embodied in the rocky union of Zac's mother, Amy (Rachel Blake) and her shifty partner, Stephen (Joe Petruzzi) – setting this against the more innocent but no less rocky encounter between Zac and Samantha (Emilie François).

Paws is, alongside Kiss or Kill (1997) and Exile in Sarajevo (1997), among the finest Australian films of its year. It's a pity if the niche-market designation – light entertainment for kids – obscures its achievement.

MORE Zwicky: The Magic Pudding

© Adrian Martin September 1997

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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