Fly Away Home (1996) is one of those “children’s films” too good to be left to just the kids.
When you look at its pedigree, you understand why.
Ballard’s career has been marked by movies like Never Cry Wolf (about a researcher studying wolves in the Canadian wilds) and Duma (about a South African boy who adopts an orphaned cheetah). Few filmmakers have been so keyed in to the subject of human/animal interaction.
Fly Away... was inspired by the life of Bill Lishman, a Canadian artist and author who adopted a gaggle of orphaned Canadian geese. Through a process called imprinting the geese assumed that Lishman was their mother. As they grew he began toying with ideas for teaching them how to migrate south, and came up with a scheme that involved using an ultralight aircraft to lead them from Ontario to their winter nesting grounds in the Carolinas.
For the film the Lishman character, Tom Alden (played by Jeff Daniels), shares the screen with a fictional teen.
Amy Alden (Anna Paquin, who at this point already had won an Oscar) is a 13-year-old who has spent most of her life in New Zealand with her mother. But when Mom dies, she finds herself uprooted and living on her father’s rural spread in Ontario.
The film begins as a sensitive study of a father clumsily trying to make up for lost time and a daughter nursing some deep hurts. In the film it’s Amy who stumbles across 16 abandoned goose eggs who becomes a “Mother Goose” when they hatch.
Fly Away Home is a ravishingly beautiful film. Deschanel often lowers his camera to ground level for a gosling’s view of the world, and the aerial scenes with the geese flying in formation behind Amy’s ultralight (which has been outfitted to look like a big goose) are lump-in-the-throat wonderful.
Some of the scenes of the scrambling goslings following Amy are very funny. They even accompany her into the shower.
And in fact the geese make friends wherever they go...and that will come in handy, since Amy and Tom nearly set off an international incident by flying over the U.S.-Canadian border without informing the authorities.
Today most viewers know Paquin as vampire-loving Sookie Stackhouse on HBO’s True Blood, but it’s interesting to see how accomplished an actress she was at a very early age. Daniels, of course, has long been one of our most affable actors, and he nicely captures Tom’s disheveled “idiot artist” side.
Weird sidebar: In 2005’s The Squid and the Whale Daniels played a man who has an affair with his son’s classmate – played by Paquin. That must have been uncomfortable.
Other films in the series “Up, Up, and Away!”
July 24 is Amelia Earhart Day, honoring the woman aviator who set records in the 1930s and disappeared attempting an around-the-globe flight. In honor of that famous native of Atchison, Kansas, the Library is offering a film series about other real-life aviators.
Mondays at 6:30 p.m.:
- July 1: The Aviator (2004) Rated PG-13
- July 8: The Dam Busters (1955) Not Rated
- July 15: The Spirit of St. Louis (1957) Not Rated
- July 22: Amelia (2009) Rated PG
- July 29: Fly Away Home (1996) Rated PG
Admission to these films is free.
About the Author
Robert W. Butler is a lifelong Kansas City area resident, a graduate of Shawnee Mission East High School and the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas. For several decades he was the movie editor of the Kansas City Star; he now writes a movie-themed blog at butlerscinemascene.com. He joined the Library's Public Affairs team in 2012.