Apr 21, 2015

Review: Fly Away Home (1996)

Just to get this out of the way, I love The Black Stallion so much. Carroll Ballard's directing career may not include too many titles, but there's no doubt in my mind that TBS is his crown jewel. OK, I'll admit that I had never seen another Ballard directed film before, but I seriously doubt that my opinion will ever change. I still remember being completely enchanted as a kid watching TBS for the first time and being doubly so watching it again when I could properly appreciate its beauty.

Fly Away Home is my second Ballard film and I was intrigued to say the least before it began. Forgoing horses for geese, it seems like Ballard has a thing for animals doesn't it? He's also done wolves and even cheetahs respectively with Never Cry Wolf and Duma. Even if they are one of my country's national animals, Canada geese don't strike me as the easiest animals to feel empathy for with the experience I've had from their overly-aggressive nature, but I was sure that Ballard had something up his sleeve.


At a Glance

Genre: adventure, drama, family
Directed by: Carroll Ballard
Produced by: Carol Baum, John Veitch, Sandy Gallin, etc.
Written by: Robert Rodat, Vince McKewin
Music by: Mark Isham
Running time: 107 minutes
Production company: Columbia Pictures Corporation, Sandollar Productions
Distributed by: Columbia Pictures, Sony Pictures Releasing, Finnkino, etc.
Country: United States, Canada
Language: English
Budget: N/A
Box office: $25,143,818 (North America)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Jeff Daniels, Anna Paquin, Dana Delany, Terry Kinney, Holter Graham, Jeremy Ratchford, Deborah Verginella, Michael J. Reynolds, David Hemblen, Ken James, Nora Ballard, Sarena Paton



Amy Alden's (Anna Paquin) parents divorced ten years ago. She now lives with her mother (Deborah Verginella) in New Zealand after having left her inventor father Tom (Jeff Daniels) back in Ontario, Canada all those years ago. Tragically, Amy's mother dies in a car accident that she luckily survives. One month later she finds herself back in a home that she doesn't remember with a father she hardly knows.


There are few things that I am more leery about than emotional deaths in the opening scenes of a movie. With Mary Chapin Carpenter's version of "Fare Thee Well," retitled as "10,000 Miles," playing as the slow-motion car accident that kills Amy's mother occurs, I couldn't help but feel that I was in for some melodramatic and cavity-inducing sweetness the rest of the way forward with Fly Away Home. Carroll Ballard cuts it close, but what I'll say is that in the end some good decisions save the day.

The transition from Amy's mother's death to her movie to Ontario is key because we're not forced to sit through a funeral and feel bad for people we don't even know yet. We're also not forced to watch Amy and her father share any sort of intense crying scene afterwards either. While it's clear that the death of Amy's mother is a huge burden on her, it's not the only thing that's bothering her. She's in a new country, a new home and she's staying with a man who doesn't really seem to be a very good father. He even has the nerve to have a woman (Dana Delany) who sometimes "lives" with him. Can you really blame Amy for being moody with all that on her plate?

Anna Paquin also does a good job at not turning her character into the central point of some kind of sob story. Paquin gives her character a certain amount of rebelliousness, but without going overboard which is a nice accomplishment for a fourteen year-old actress. Overcoming any self-doubt she might have with steely-eyed resolve, she's an interesting character to watch as she evolves. What causes that evolution you might ask? That would be the Canada geese that she ends up raising from eggs.

Besides being a story about a young girl getting over the death of her mother, Fly Away Home is an animal activist film. However, it will at times trumpet that a bit too much with a scene like Jeff Daniels' character running outside in his underwear to yell at a truck to stop tearing down the trees nearby for example. A land developer character played by Ken James is also just a little too two-dimensional for my liking. However, what Ballard does do very well is show how much he respects the animal subjects of his film.

Seriously, I fell in love with the Canada geese that Amy raised and I wanted Amy and her father to succeed in teaching them to migrate so badly. They of course have to contend with quite a few different roadblocks, but uplifting is one of the best words I can think of to describe Fly Away Home. I won't deny that certain parts of the film are pretty cheesy, but I know when a film gets me in the sweet spot and this one does just that. Combine that with some pretty impressive cinematography and a lovely score from Mark Isham and you've got a special little family film here.

From a very unsteady beginning, Fly Away Home took me by surprise. I was already set to write this Carroll Ballard film off no matter how unfair that would be, but Ballard just wouldn't let me. Despite being a bit hard to believe at times, going a bit overboard in its love for nature and being cheesy a few too many times, that didn't stop me from feeling like I was soaring as high as Amy and her dad in their ultralight aircraft.



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