Movie Review - Hunt for the Wilderpeople

The movie is about an old man who sets out on an adventure with a young boy who is slightly overweight and not biologically related to him. The adventure takes them into the woods where they encounter a rare bird. At first, the old man is resentful of the boy, but eventually he grows to love the young one. It ends with a chase and the two possibly dying. There's even a dog that tags along. The movie is fine, but I think I liked it better when it was called Pixar's Up (2009). It's not that Pixar invented the idea of an old person teaming with a young person. Charlie Chaplin might have invented it with The Kid (1921). Yet, Pixar innovated it and put its own special Pixar stamp on it. Unfortunately, this film just feels derivative, not special much at all.

Julian Dennison stars as Ricky Baker, an overweight, prepubescent boy who is in the foster care system. He looks like he likes hip hop music. He composes lame haiku poems. He's a bit of a trouble-maker, a slight pyromaniac and a bit jaded. His caseworker finds a foster home way out in the country of New Zealand. Ricky is clearly a city kid and doesn't want to stay in this extremely rural area, bordering the so-called wilderness. He'd rather a place with Wi-Fi.

Sam Neil (The Hunt for Red October and Jurassic Park) co-stars as Hector Faulkner, a curmudgeon. He's married to a very sweet woman who fosters Ricky. He has no feelings for Ricky but because he loves his wife, he tolerates Ricky. He looks like a mountain man. He wears constantly a cowboy hat. He has a beard and wears clothing of a hunter. He even carries a rifle. He doesn't talk much or read at all. He's quiet, brooding and no-nonsense.

Written and directed by Taika Waititi, this movie tackles some serious subjects like loss and even potential child molestation in a very comical and quite frankly ridiculous way. Like Quentin Tarantino or Wes Anderson, Waititi increases the storybook nature of the film by dividing the narrative into literal chapters. The chapters appears on screen as titles. There are about ten chapters. Each chapter is accompanied by a whimsical subtitle.

Unfortunately, Waititi revels in that whimsy for a little too long, which would have been fine, if Waititi had an important message at the end, or he was hitting his themes a little better. The movie feels like a stretch without a big enough emotional pay-off at the end. Pixar's Up has one of the best emotional pay-offs of any film, animated or otherwise.

By the end, I didn't feel the bond between the boy and the old man in this movie that I felt in Pixar's Up. Plus, it's propelled with this idea that the boy and the old man are running away from something, whereas Pixar's Up has the boy and the old man running toward something for the most part. Even though the Pixar flick has a house levitated by balloons and a talking dog, Up doesn't seem as over-the-top as this. So much so, the ending here had me rolling my eyes.

Two Stars out of Five.
Rated PG- 13 for violent content and some language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 41 mins.


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