The love between a boy and his pelican forms the heart of the second screen adaptation of Colin Thiele’s beloved Australian children’s novel Storm Boy.
Fitted up with a new framing device featuring Geoffrey Rush as the grown-up version of the child character at the story’s center, Shawn Seet’s rendition will most appeal to fans of the book or the 1976 film adaptation. But even those unfamiliar with the tale will find it charming and moving, and, as is so often the case with Australian films, the scenery can’t be beat.
The film’s present-day sequences feature Rush as an older version of the title character, Michael Kingsley, now an aged tycoon called from retirement to vote on his company’s proposal to lease land on the country’s western coast to a mining company. Kingsley’s son-in-law Malcolm (Erik Thomson), now the company’s head, is very much in favor of the deal. Malcolm’s 17-year-old daughter, Maddy (Morgana Davies), on the other hand, is vehemently opposed to her father’s plan, horrified at the ecological repercussions.
A delay in the voting cues the extended flashback in which Kingsley regales his granddaughter with the story of his childhood spent at the remote land in question. It was there that young Michael (Finn Little) grew up with his widower father (Jai Courtney), so reclusive that he’s earned the nickname “Hideaway Tom.”
One day, Michael, who’s made friends with a local aboriginal man, Fingerbone Bill (Trevor Jamieson), discovers three baby pelicans whose mother was killed by drunken hunters. Overcoming his father’s reluctance, Michael cares for them at his home, naming them Mr. Proud, Mr. Ponder and Mr. Percival. Michael does such a good job raising them that he tearfully agrees to his father’s instructions to set them free. But Mr. Percival, with whom Michael has formed a special bond, soon returns, with the boy and the affectionate pelican becoming inseparable through various adventures.
It’s a sweet, moving tale, leavened with enough grittiness in terms of characters and situations to ameliorate any cloying aspects. And while the framing device in Monjo’s screenplay isn’t necessary, it does provide the opportunity for Rush to deliver one of his more subtle, effective performances in recent years. It also lends an environmental protection theme that provides both contemporary relevance and a crowd-pleasing happy ending.
Child actor Finn delivers a terrifically naturalistic performance that has the audience rooting for young Michael from the beginning. Courtney delivers a solid supporting turn as the emotionally scarred dad, while Jamison nearly steals the film with his charismatic turn as Michael’s new friend. (The film includes the nice touch of a cameo appearance by the great David Gulpilil, who played Fingerbone Bill in the original film and here turns up as the character’s father.)
And while pelicans aren’t the most emotionally expressive of animals, they certainly come across that way here. Even the most cynical adult viewer will find it hard not to melt at the sight of Mr. Percival affectionally wrapping his elongated neck around Michael’s shoulders. After the film is over, parents should be prepared to tell their children that, no, pelicans don’t make great pets in real life.
Production Company: Ambience Entertainment
Distributor: Good Deed Entertainment
Cast: Geoffrey Rush, Jai Courtney, Finn Little, Trevor Jamieson, Morgana Davies, Erik Thomson, David Gulpilil
Director: Shawn Seet
Screenwriter: Justin Monjo
Producers: Michael Boughen, Matthew Street
Executive producers: Robert Slaviero, Geoffrey Rush, Christopher Figg, Robert Whitehouse, Justin Deimen, Sherman Ng
Director of photography: Bruce Young
Production designer: Melinda Doring
Costume designer: Louise McCarthy
Editor: Denise Haratzis
Composer: Alan John
Casting director: Ann Robinson