"Hunt for the Wilderpeople" is a marvelous new movie from New Zealand and it sure makes you want to see more from writer/director Taika Wiatiti. It's a sweet and enjoyable film from start to finish and the young star of the film and veteran Sam Neill are a joy to watch together throughout the movie.
When the film begins, a very strange social worker, Paula, brings Ricky (Julian Dennison) to live in yet another foster home. The kid is angry and a mess and yet somehow Bella makes the boy feel loved and all is well...until Bella soon unexpectedly drops dead. Her husband, Hec (Sam Neill), isn't thrilled with keeping the kid and has every intention of returning the kid to Paula. However, before he can do this, the kid disappears...off to live the 'thug life' in the New Zealand bush! As for Hec, he makes the fateful mistake of following after the boy. Why is this so bad? Well, after finding Ricky, Hec falls and shatters his leg and they are now in the middle of nowhere and are forced to camp out and live off the land. In the meantime, Paula alerts the police and soon there's a nationwide dragnet to find the boy...and folks all believe Hec is some sicko who's kidnapped the kid! So, when they finally return, they are nearly killed by angry idiots and they are forced, once again, to return to the countryside. What will ever happen with this oddly mismatched pair?!
If the plot sounds familiar, it's actually very much like a live action version of "Up"...with a few changes of course. There's the dead wife, the grouchy old man, the needy kid and their eventual search for a supposedly extinct bird...all familiar "Up" elements. But it works as well because there are some lovely differences...and instead of schmaltz and sentiment, the film relies on the kid being a cute little budding sociopath as well as some wonderful dialog by all the characters. Well worth seeing, lots of fun and a great look one of the most beautiful countries I have ever visited. Additionally, in Hunt for the Wilderpeople, look for the director in a bit part as the minister performing Bella's funeral...it's a very strange and funny scene.
Incidentally, if you enjoy this film, there are a few other great Kiwi films I strongly could recommend, such as "Once Were Warriors" and "Whale Rider". All three are excellent family films, though "Once Were Warriors" is definitely for an older and more adult audience (no pre-teens for this one).
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