There’s always little luck in adaptations of beloved children’s novels and a little less so when a majority of the population have grown up with it and studied it in school. Colin Thiel’s 1963 children’s novel Storm Boy has been an integral part of growing up for the average Australian kid, and with one film version already released in 1977, there appeared to be no reason to attempt another adaptation. Regardless director Shawn Seet tries to add a contemporary frame to the 1950’s tale, in more of a universal tale that no doubt will try to break the international film market.
Opening in current day Adelaide, elderly businessman Michael (Geoffrey Rush) is heading to his old workplace to vote on a new proposal to give some land in Western Australia to a mining company, with the assistance of his son in law Malcolm (Erik Thompson). After an accident that postpones the vote, he hears about the objections from his granddaughter Maddy (Morgana Davies) and begins to relay the story of his childhood and time on the land which is now being debated.
In the 1950’s storyline, a young Michael (Finn Little) lives with his widowed father Tom (Jai Courtney) on a beach far from everyone else. Here Michael meets Fingerbone Bill (Trevor Jamieson) who helps him learn about the land and its creatures. No sooner than this does Michael come across three orphaned baby pelicans that he decides to keep as his own and becomes a parent to them as they grow old.
There’s no doubt that the moments in the film between Michael and the pelicans are touching and expertly crafted that you can feel the love between them. Little carries a majority of the film with his likability and his performance is both inspiring and moving. For his film debut, there is plenty to admire from his delicate performance. Courtney is solid, but at times comes across too one dimensional and can’t seem to work very well with the character in the book. Rush is the main selling point of the movie, but the allegations he is currently facing will definitely sway public perception for this film. Ultimately he isn’t given enough to work with and his character development becomes non existent.
The cinematography of the film is beautiful and a highlight here, particularly as the audience sees beautiful visuals of the scenery and the pelicans. For Seet’s direction, there is an effort to blend both the emotional deftness of the source material and the heart-warming story that mimics Red Dog and other animal centred Australian films. The sound editing could be sharper with some low decibel moments followed by sweeping musical scores. But for an Australian film attempting to hit the international market, it is a solid attempt.
But for a children’s film there is little to marvel at for kids. Many parts are slow and adult themes are at times not properly explained and weaved into the storyline. For adults, there is little to no character development, particularly when it comes to the end and it seems as if this grand childhood story has done little for Michael in the end. More concentration on the script could have removed the subplots and concentrated more on the core story. In fact the modern day plot detracts from the point of the story and could have been cut out entirely and made for a pleasant quintessential Australian film perfect for international consumption.
Ultimately Storm Boy ticks the necessary boxes but doesn’t rank more than an average adaptation of a classic Australian story. It’s a slow burn, with a sense of gravitas that it never lives up to. Give this one a miss.
The cinematography of Western Australia is dazzling here and Finn Little is a marvel who should be watched as he ages.
Slow burning children’s film that never seems to make a strong point and is never particularly entertaining to watch.
Originally published on Back Row, 5 February, 2019.