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‘Hunt For The Wilderpeople’ Is One Charming Adventure (Movie Review)

hunt for the wilderpeople thumbIt’s something of a shame that live-action adventure movies intended for a family audience are relegated to being the talk of film festivals, rather than something in demand by studios these days. Hunt for the Wilderpeople was met with much acclaim at Sundance this past winter and it deserves it, but it is almost as if the film won people over for being a good example of what we used to get more of. Regardless, this little New Zealand gem features a fine story about two people learning to work with one another and the madcap adventure they experience in the bush.

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Teenager Julian Dennison stars as Ricky, a juvenile delinquent who has been sent by child welfare services to live in the country with his Aunt Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and her husband Hec (Sam Neill). Circumstances change quickly forcing the defiant Ricky and the cranky Hec to live on their own together. However, this doesn’t work for child services, but the newfound relationship leads to Ricky and Hec going on the run into the bush (New Zealand’s native forestlands). Now, wandering the woods as fugitives, Ricky and Hec become even closer, with lots of chases and hilariousness ensuing in the process.

Director Taika Waititi is a director on the verge of breaking out big. He’s made a few films, but his vampire mockumentary, What We Do in the Shadows, certainly propelled him to higher acclaim. It’s a great comedy, but Hunt for the Wilderpeople actually has more in common with Waititi’s earlier films, Eagle vs. Shark and Boy. All of his films have an inherent level of sweetness to them, which should hopefully help make his next film, Thor: Ragnorok, stay away from the dark and gritty route.

Speaking to what works specifically well in Wilderpeople, Waititi definitely finds himself in control of the antics that ensue. While the film is ostensibly a comedy, there is a good level of pacing that allows the dry humor to make up a lot of what we see, with big comedic moments coming every so often to really help the film earn solid laughs. In order to generate these laughs, a fine collection of talent has been brought onboard.

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Dennison is fairly new to the movie scene, but he is great as a ‘gangsta’ wannabe with enough attitude to talk big, but also enough sense to know when he needs help or feel the right way about those who care about him. Many other supporting players pop up in this film, including one key cameo that is hysterical, but Rachel House gets a lot of laughs as Paula, the social worker. The most notable player, however, has to be Neill.

It is as if Neill’s Dr. Grant character from an alternate version Jurassic Park learned nothing about kids and is now older and living in isolation in this film. He is great as a tracker in the wilderness, but has the attitude of an old man with no time for kids in his life. He loved his wife, but Ricky is the embodiment of a nuisance for him. Obviously this relationship evolves over the course of the film, but it is wonderful to watch unfold. Seeing Ricky and Hec together is the heart of this film and what allows for that level of sweetness you would expect in a film like this and from Waititi (who also has a hilarious cameo as a minister).

Also important is Lachlan Milne’s wonderful cinematography. Yes, it is possible for other movies, aside from The Lord of the Rings to make good use of the wonderful terrain that can be found in New Zealand. As Ricky and Hec journey through the bush, the audience is treated to a great number of sites that really show how two people can become lost along with the epic nature that is found in this kind of scenery.

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Hunt for the Wilderpeople is no epic (even though the climax features an extended car chase, best looked at as Ricky’s Fury Road – yes I know that’s an Australian film), but you could certainly take in a great amount of pleasure from not only seeing a well-acted, funny story about a bond forming, but one that is visually dazzling as well (and happy to get a little silly). It is only better when you think about how a small film like this relied on actual locations, as opposed to visual effects.

There is a lot to like in Hunt for the Wilderpeople, as it is funny and enjoyable throughout. It has a backbone built upon a superb relationship, which helps tremendously. I only wish this kind of film would be put into wide release, but instead I’ll just have to hope many get the chance to see it. They don’t often make them like this for a general audience anymore, but this is easily the kind of film I’d want to see more often, if it could always be this delightful.

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Gamer, Comic Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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