20 Years On: “Fly Away Home”

Childhood film’s are unique in that they leave a lasting impression, but may bring about some new feelings decades later. What was once highly entertaining and fun may no longer be. What we thought was good may now turn out to be dreadful. It only ever makes me wonder, why would I want to revisit childhood favorites?

The Columbia Pictures film “Fly Away Home”, is nothing short of brilliant and beautiful. It may be quite old, but still provides an experience not often seen in today’s films.

This family drama stars Jeff Daniels (“Allegiant”, “Steve Jobs”), Anna Paquin (“Roots (2016)”, “The Good Dinosaur”), Dana Delany (“Hand of God”, “The Comedians”), Terry Kinney (upcoming series “Good Behavior”, “Billions”), Holter Graham (“Black Box”, “Offspring”), and Jeremy Ratchford (“Workaholics”, “NCIS”).

The film was directed by Carroll Ballard (“Duma”, “Wind”) and written by Robert Rodat (“Falling Skies”, “The Patriot”) and Vince McKewin (“Taxi Brooklyn”, “Las Vegas”). It is inspired by the autobiography “Father Goose” by Bill Lishman.

The film originally opened on Sept. 13, 1996. The film would go on to be nominated for one Academy Award, one Critics Choice Award, and two Young Artists Awards; winning one among some other wins and nominations.

I’ve been waiting months to see this. No, really! I’m not sure which came first. My want to see it as it was playing on some sort of movie channel, or that I’d made my 2016 calendar for this blog. Regardless, I eventually got it in my head that I needed to watch it. I guess it helped, too, that I’d rewatched the trailer. Something else that was driving this desire, which surprised even me, is that I kept repeating bits of dialogue. Random bits, but things I’d held onto since I’d watched it last as a child or teenager. I’m not sure which, but that doesn’t change the fact that I recalled loving this film. And now that I’ve revisited it as an adult, I’m glad it was a film I was first introduced to as a child. Here’s hoping I can show it to my nephews and they’ll be amazed by the film’s story too.

A part of me, for some reason, was expecting to find this film not as I remembered. And, I guess you can also say, that that is indeed what happened. However, the difference is that I didn’t find that I’d remembered it wrong or just responded to it negatively now as an adult. No, I found myself responding to it because it is simply a well made film. Top notch or anything grand? Perhaps not, but when it comes to some well made films, it doesn’t need 50 some odd award wins and nominations, if not more, to prove its worth someone’s time.

This film had it all, and for a kid’s or family film, I’m surprised by it. The one negative I have is just wondering if kid’s today would find it worth watching? Did kid’s in 1996 find it worth watching? The fact that I can’t recall when I stopped watching it could be an indicator that it wasn’t a film I enjoyed all that much. Or, which is also likely, as my family was really more of the Disney and animated household, we just didn’t own it. I’m sure there are loads of films that my family didn’t have that we watched, but never took too much of an interest in. I can’t say I’m a fan of “The Indian in the Cupboard” or “The Little Princess”, among some others, but I can recall seeing them. I recall scenes, or what I believe to be scenes from these film’s. Yet, I haven’t seen them again (dunno when last), and have no desire to revisit them. I don’t even think my own nephews have been exposed to them, but in this day and age, that’s just gotten harder and harder to do.

This film sweeps you away! Surprisingly the film’s heavy and dramatic plot is actually intriguing. It begins with loss, and throughout that you just explore the aftermath. Paquin, older than she was when she filmed her role for “The Piano”, knows how to really convey some complex emotions. Child actors still amaze me with this. Were they as complex as her award winning performance? I’m not sure, but this is death we’re talking about. It’s never easy. Throw in the fact that she’s in a new environment, with Daniels as her dad, whom she hasn’t really seen in some time, and you’ve got a film that seems a better fit for adults.

That’s where I must applaud the writers. They so delicately, but not too delicately, weave in all these complex feelings and themes. Ultimately what you have is a character driven film. Every bit of story is propelled by Paquin’s character and how she’s responding to losing her mother. In turn, we’re given strong performances from Paquin and Daniels, but to not exclude the other supporting players, including Delany. Becoming heavily invested in these people’s lives and seeing what type of people they are wasn’t difficult. Because of this, you’re taken on one incredibly emotional journey that can still inspire those who watch.

That emotional journey is rewarding. Of course you’ve got your inspirational part of the story, which includes all the cute things the baby geese did, such as fall in a toilet and run to catch up to Paquin, which I’ll come back to, but you’ve got all the reflection. I know I sort of mentioned reflection, but it’s how the writers and Ballard captured it that makes it work the best. In the film and for the viewer. So much of the start of the film is centered upon Paquin figuring out who she is now and what she’s going to do. There are so many scenes with her just thinking back to her mother and it’s never out of place. As a viewer, you yourself must reflect on this too. I originally thought it was surprising to see the accident occur, mainly as this is a family film and that might turn younger viewers off. But it had purpose beyond just the general story. You were always emotionally connected to Paquin. Film’s in general have a hard enough time making this work, but 20 years out and in a family/children’s film, that’s amazing.

The geese. How does one write about geese? I don’t even know how to write about he baby geese, except to say that they’re cute! Little balls of fluff! On a serious note, as regards this film, this balances the film’s heavier themes and moments. Again, they’re cute, and Paquin’s character finds something. The fact that she can save their lives, be a mother to them in some way, or just have friends. It’s not unusual for people to find a lot of comfort in animals. Whatever it is, it ends up being for the better. These geese have to migrate, as most birds do, and viewers get a well told inspirational story to watch! I must admit, throughout this film, but especially by the end, I was inspired. Inspired to do what? I don’t know. I just couldn’t keep my excitement contained, nor the moisture that was forming in my eyes from coming. Inspirational stories like this can end up going sideways easily. This one, I don’t believe does. Not at all.

While it may seem that baby geese and the cute antics, brought about by imprinting, are immune from problems, you’d be wrong. Another area and way this film works, especially emotionally, is any time the geese are in trouble. These moments, which come around so organically, are just as dramatic as any of the other personal loss issues that Paquin and Daniels deal with. They may not last long, but when they hit, it’s quite hard. Perhaps, which is something I’m constantly thinking about, I’m just some sort of oddity. Get me involved and invested enough and anything will elicit a response from me

As well done as everything else is in this film, I honestly don’t know if it would be as nearly as effective if it weren’t for two elements. The score and the cinematography. They truly work wonders together. I seldom talk about them as one, but now it’s a must.

Providing all of this awe and wonder, was the magnificent and beautiful cinematography done by Caleb Deschanel (upcoming “Rules Don’t Apply”, “Winter’s Tale”). Whether you’re on the ground or up in the air flying, you never stop eating this feeling of amazement, or something that I’m not able to convey. No matter how long I think on it, words just can’t capture it. There’s so much to see and feel, and it’s so perfectly handed to you. Some of the beset places that Deschanel’s work can be seen is any of the migration work. From learning to fly to the actual migrating done, which is easily the most exciting part of the film. It captures everything beautifully. Even when not flying around city buildings, and seeing the wonderment on people’s faces, you get such a great look at what life on Daniels’ farm is like. You’d never want to leave.

Adding to all this beauty captured by Deschanel, is Mark Isham’s (upcoming films “Mr. Church”, “The Accountant”) equally beautiful score. It never ceased to capture every type of emotion. Every moment of the story was propelled by this score, and truly leant the right cues to get involved. At so many moments I wondered if I would be moved to complete tears, but I wasn’t. I was always on the brink, that’s how moving the score was. I was excited and thrilled by what I was seeing. Or, I was just enjoyed a silly moment with the small balls of fluff. Isham’s arrangements are truly unlike anything I’ve heard from many other seasoned composers. This film, and myself, are so lucky by what he did.

Revisiting films can be a risky move. Your one memory or several may be positive, and if it’s a childhood one, it may have shaped who you are, even in some small way. By going back and seeing what it was that made you love a film so much, the reward may not be one at all. Things will be tainted for good. Older film’s already have a hard enough time with aging. The fact that a film can capture so much, be so effective, and engrossing, is a huge testament to those who help create films. This film has no shortage of brilliance, and hopefully, just maybe, it won’t slip through the cracks completely. There are already enough long forgotten and well made films, does there really need to be another?

For those who don’t know:

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