(Movie review written in 2001)
In a time period where children's fare is either completely mindless or completely lacking altogether, it's rare that wholesome and delicate features like "Fly Away Home" make their way into theaters and actually are successful. In particular, "Home" did not do much business during its theatrical release, but has gained a cult cult following in the years since on video, thanks to fine performances from Anna Paquin and Jeff Daniels.
Paquin stars as 13 year-old Amy Alden, whose mother passes away in a car crash as the film opens in one of the few scenes in the movie that might be scary for the youngest viewers. She moves in with her father Thomas (Jeff Daniels) in the wilds of Ontario, where he's a sculptor and flys ultralight planes in his spare time. When Amy comes upon a group of Canadian Geese eggs that have been abandoned by their parents, she decides to raise them. Although Thomas doesn't think that it'll be a very good idea to have the Geese in their own home, he sees how much joy it brings Amy to be a parent of her own.
Yet, things can't stay the way that they are: local authorities want to clip the wings of the Geese if they are in fact staying. They will likely have to fly South in a few months, but need a parent to guide them on their journey. That's where Amy comes in - although Thomas attempts to get them to follow in his ultralight plane, it becomes obvious that Amy is the only one that they respond to. Thus begins a journey with both father and daughter, with the Geese in tow and the media following their progress.
The film isn't without a few minor flaws as the film is occasionally predictable, but there are positive aspects that really balance things out nicely. Daniels and Paquin have a good relationship and their characters are fully-realized; on the other hand, Dana Delaney, who plays the girlfriend of Thomas, is a bit less of a character. The Canadian Geese in the film are impressively well-behaved for a species of birds that are famously foul-tempered.
Overall, "Fly Away Home" is a rare (these days, at least) movie that the whole family can enjoy, with a good message that's not too heavy-handed and performances that are splendid.
VIDEO: "Fly Away Home" is presented by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment in 1.85:1 (1080p/AVC). The results are a tad inconsistent - while there are some scenes that look superb, there are other scenes that display some mild concerns. Sharpness and detail vary, as while most of the picture appears crisp and clear, some moments look to have been filmed with an intentionally soft look.
The main concern with the transfer was moderate amounts of edge enhancement in visible in several scenes, which caused some distraction and dismay. Although some inconsistent grain and a few minor instances of specks, marks and grit were seen, the print used was otherwise generally clean and clear. Colors were beautifully rendered throughout the movie; the warm, rich indoor colors appeared natural and well-saturated and outdoor scenery provided plenty of gorgeous colors. Overall, this was a few steps up from the DVD edition, but not without a few minor-to-mild issues.
SOUND: The film is presented in Dolby TrueHD 5.1. Although it certainly won't shake the walls, the film's sound designers have done an excellent job at recreating environments and giving outdoor scenes a good sense of depth and dimension. Audio-wise, the film comes alive when it moves outside; ambient sounds such as the winds blowing across the fields are captured with remarkable realism. A couple of other scenes provided effective surround use as well; a storm a few minutes in sounded great, the scenes when either Paquin or Daniels took off in the airplanes also sounded as if the viewer was there with them and even a scene where Paquin was on a tire swing sounded as if she was swinging from the front of the room to the back speakers.
Audio quality seemed terrific, as Mark Isham's wonderful score came through with remarkable warmth and clarity. And, as previously mentioned, the ambient sounds came through clearly and convincingly. Dialogue also sounded natural and clear throughout the movie. Some low bass was noticable at times (especially when the Army scrambles fighter jets when they see the Geese following Amy on the radar). The Dolby TrueHD presentation did offer the more subtle details with improved clarity, while the score sounded a tad richer and warmer.
Commentary: This is a commentary from director Carroll Ballard and cinematographer Caleb Deschanel. This isn't a particularly outstanding commentary, but it's often a very entertaining and informative one as it becomes apparent early on that the two participants are good friends. It also sounds as if they went through quite a bit during filmming as they tell stories about what went on during production. A few jokes (such as about the mess some of the co-stars made) also punctuate the discussion and things are kept light. There's a few pauses of silence now and then, but the two talk for the majority of the film. It's remarkable that the production was able to work as well as it was with the birds, trained or not - Canadian Geese always seem more than a little irritable.
Operation: Migration: This 17 minute documentary focuses on the inspiration for "Fly Away Home", inventor Bill Fishman, who provides migratory programs for endangered birds. It's very interesting to hear about his adventures and how his program has expanded greatly since its origins.
The Ultra Geese: "The Ultra Geese" is a 48 minute documentary that was put together by Fishman, who filmed many of his adventures while either getting birds ready to migrate or literally flying with them in his ultralight airplane. It's terrific that the studio has decided to include this superb special feature for the DVD - it's a very educational and extremely informative piece that parents should play for their children after the film is finished.
Fly Away Home: Making Of: This is a 13 minute HBO special that provides interviews that go over the general story ideas and what it was like working on the production. Promotional, but not enormously so - may be good for one view.
Final Thoughts:Overall, "Fly Away Home" is a rare (these days, at least) movie that the whole family can enjoy, with a good message that's not too heavy-handed and performances that are splendid. The Blu-Ray offers mild improvements in terms of audio/video quality, as well as a set of informative extras.
The Film B+