There’s something about stories involving a child forming a bond with an animal. The unconditional love that goes with it, developing understanding, learning to deal with loss …. all part of growing up, really, which puts it squarely into the coming of age genre, no matter the age of the young person concerned. The animals vary – dogs, horses, and birds are all there. The television adaptation of Paul Gallico’s The Snow Goose from the 70s is one of the most moving and Storm Boy, which arrives on digital this week, is a variation on a similar theme.
A contemporary version of the Australian classic of the same name by Colin Thiele, this starts with retired high-flying businessman Michael Kingsley (Geoffrey Rush) under pressure from his grand daughter to intervene when his former company is about to make a decision with environmental consequences. It resurrects memories of his childhood in a remote coastal part of Australia, one that was also home to a flock of pelicans, and of how he rescued three chicks when hunters killed their mother. He and the smallest of the trio, Mr Percival, become inseparable and bird has a significant impact on his life.
The young Michael (Finn Little) in turn is given the name Storm Boy by local Aboriginal, Fingerbone Bill (Trevor Jamieson), because of the native legend that when a pelican is killed, a storm will always follow. His relationship both with the boy and his reclusive father, known locally as Hideaway Tom (Jai Courtney), is more tolerant than you would expect from what looks like the late 50s/early 60s and figures strongly in the childhood sequences, which are shown in flashback. But director Shawn Seet is uncomfortable moving backwards and forwards in time: the connections are clumsy and all too often the contemporary scenes are more of an interruption than an addition to the narrative.
The coastal panorama is a gift to cinematographer Bruce Young, however, and he treats us to some beautiful images, from glowing Australian sunsets to sweepingly expansive moments on the beach and heart warming aerial shots of the young Michael playing footie with the pelicans. Inevitably, it’s his relationship with Mr Percival that’s the emotional heart of the movie and Seet manages to keep that on the right side of sentiment. He’s helped by an appealing performance by Finn Little, who looks like an Antipodean Noah Jupe and seems a natural in both the landscape and with his web footed friends. The older Michael and grand daughter Maddie (Morgan Davies) fare less well: her character is less well drawn, never moving much beyond the truculent teenager so, although Rush brings a sensitivity to his role, the two never really gel on screen.
As a piece of family entertainment, Storm Boy is no classic, but has enough sincerity and warmth to appeal to a younger audience, once which may find itself – certainly at the moment – watching with their parents. For them, however, it’s charming if over-simplistic and, given the appeal of Mr Percival, might just cause a slight prickle in their eyes.
Adventure, Family, Drama | Cert: PG | Lightbulb Film Distribution | Digital, 6 April 2020 | Dir. Shawn Seet | Geoffrey Rush, Finn Little, Jai Courtney, Trevor Jamieson, Morgan Davies.